Sarcoma: what you need to know about this type of cancerous tumor

Sarcoma is a type of cancer. It is more precisely a particular, complex and rare tumor. Sarcoma affects around 4,000 people in France each year, according to the Info Sarcomes association, and represents around 2% of all cancers. Although men and women of all ages can be affected by this type of cancerous tumor, sarcomas mostly affect young adults.

Sarcoma: what is it?

Sarcomas are a group of cancerous tumors. These develop quickly or slowly from cells from the body’s supporting tissue, according to Institut Curie. These rare tumors can spread to different places in the body. There are at least 50 kinds of sarcomas. However, there are two types: sarcomas of the bones and cartilage and sarcomas of the soft tissues and viscera.

The most common are sarcomas of the soft tissues and viscera. In this case, the tumors develop in fatty and fibrous tissues, muscles, blood vessels, nerves, limbs, in particular in the abdomen, but also in organs (stomach, colon, etc.) .

There are different kinds of bone and cartilage sarcomas. We talk about osteosarcomas when tumors spread to the bones of the limbs, in particular the femur and the pelvis. Edwing’s sarcomas can be found on all large bones, including the legs. As for chondrosarcomas, they develop from cartilage tissue.

What are the causes of sarcoma?

The origins of sarcoma are still unknown for the time being. Like many cancers, these tumors present without it being possible to determine the cause. However, certain factors can favor their appearance. According to the Arc Foundation for Cancer Research, certain rare genetic diseases, such as retinoblastoma or Werner’s syndrome, increase the chances of developing soft tissue sarcoma.

Another risk factor: exposure to ionizing rays. “Radiotherapy treatment for various cancers, including breast cancer and lymphomas, also increases the risk of later developing sarcoma”, indicates on its site the Arc Foundation for research on cancer. Exposure to certain toxins, such as vinyl chloride or dioxin, is also associated with an increased risk of developing this type of cancerous tumor.

Viral infections are also considered to be risk factors. “Two viruses predispose to the development of a rare type of sarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, one of the hallmarks of which is the presence of purplish or brownish tumors on the skin. The two viruses involved are the human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8) and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) responsible for AIDS. HIV-positive people with HIV are also at increased risk of developing other soft tissue sarcomas. “, specifies the foundation. Chronic lymphedema, which is the persistent build-up of lymph in the tissues, may also increase the chances of developing sarcomas.

Sarcoma: what are the symptoms of this type of cancerous tumor?

This type of cancerous tumor can present in different ways. Sarcomas of the soft tissues and viscera manifest as a lump or swelling. A doctor should be seen if the lump is more than two centimeters in diameter, even if it is not painful. These tumors can also go unnoticed when they are little developed because they are asymptomatic. On the other hand, when this mass grows, it can get in the way and become painful because it compresses neighboring nerves and muscles.

“A sarcoma placed in the thorax can cause coughing and breathing difficulties. Placed in the abdomen, it can cause pain or an increase in abdominal volume”, says the Curie Institute.

Sarcomas of the bones and cartilage are characterized by a persistent hematoma or lump, which develops in a bone, and an unexplained fracture of the bone. These tumors are also manifested by bone pain which becomes more and more severe over time and is resistant to painkillers.

Sarcoma: how to diagnose it?

The diagnosis of sarcoma should be made and confirmed by trained healthcare professionals. Symptoms of this type of cancer, such as discomfort or pain, should prompt the patient to see their doctor. The practitioner ask him to perform imaging examinations (scanner, MRI, x-ray, etc.). If sarcoma is suspected, a biopsy is prescribed. Analysis of a sample of tumor tissue taken will confirm the diagnosis. The pathological examination then makes it possible to determine the subtype of the sarcoma in order to administer the appropriate treatment to the patient.

What are the treatments for sarcoma?

The treatment of sarcoma is based on surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. These different treatments can be applied alone or be combined. Surgery is the main treatment for sarcomas. This surgical intervention is performed by specialized surgeons trained to operate on this type of tumor. This operation involves removing all the tissue containing cancer cells with a margin of healthy tissue to limit the risk of recurrence.

Depending on the results of the surgery, the grade and location of the sarcoma, surgery may be supplemented with radiation therapy. This treatment may be prescribed before the operation to limit the area to be removed or afterwards to treat sarcoma that cannot be completely removed. Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to destroy cancer cells and reduce their multiplication.

Another complementary treatment: chemotherapy before or after surgery. This drug treatment works against cancer cells and prevents them from growing. Specialists can also give a patient with sarcoma anti-cancer drugs that can attack cells. The most widely used drug to date is doxoribicin.

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