July is sarcoma month, a time to raise awareness about bone cancer and soft tissue sarcomas. These rare kinds of cancer occur in the bones and other connective tissues, such as muscles, fat, blood vessels, tendons, and nerves.
They are also challenging to diagnose and treat. This is why these patients require specialized care and support.
Known as the “forgotten cancer,” sarcomas develop in the connective tissue that joins and supports other tissues in the body. They can grow in cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, tendons and around joints or bones. Osteosarcoma is one type of bone sarcoma.
This bone cancer usually starts in osteoblasts, which are cells that become new bone. It most often forms in the ends of long bones of the arms and legs, particularly the thighbone (femur). However, it can form in any bone. It may also spread, or metastasize, to other bones and organs in the body.
Osteosarcoma is the most common primary bone cancer in children and adolescents. It tends to occur during a growth spurt, and it is more common in boys than in girls. It is rarer in adults, but it can appear at any age. Treatment innovations have greatly improved the outlook, or prognosis, for people with osteosarcoma over the years. The team of doctors who treat this disease is typically led by an oncologist and includes an orthopedic surgeon.
Soft Tissue Sarcoma
Soft tissue sarcomas develop in the muscle, fat, blood vessels, tendons and other supportive tissues of the body. They can be found anywhere in the body, but most often in arms and legs. They can grow very quickly and are often painful. They can also be found in hollow organs such as the stomach or intestines or in the bladder and reproductive organs.
Symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma can be similar to other diseases, so it’s important to see your doctor if you have any concerns. Your GP will examine you and might refer you to a specialist. You will have tests to check how big the cancer is and whether it has spread. These tests are called staging and grading.
You might have a biopsy. This is when doctors take small pieces of tissue from the tumour to look at under a microscope. It’s not usually painful but you might feel a lump or pressure.
Signs & Symptoms
Most osteosarcomas develop around the knee or shoulder in growing children and teens, but they can happen in any bone. Bone cancer cells start when healthy bone-growing cells develop changes in their DNA. The changes make the cells grow out of control, making new bone when it isn’t needed. The extra bone forms a mass (tumor) that can spread to other bones or into nearby soft tissues.
Symptoms vary depending on the location and size of the tumor. The most common symptom is bone pain that doesn’t go away. The pain may be worse during exercise or at night. Sometimes the pain may lead to a limp.
If a person has the symptoms of osteosarcoma, they should see their doctor right away. They might need chemotherapy, which uses strong medicines to kill cancer cells and stop them from growing. People with osteosarcoma or UPS of bone may also need radiation therapy. This is used to treat small areas of cancer that cannot be removed with surgery or if the cancer has spread.
Whether bone cancer spreads (metastasized) or is primary, most people with osteosarcoma need surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Most osteosarcoma happens in children and teens. It can cause pain and swelling in arms and legs, which may be mistaken for growing pains or a sports injury.
If the tumor is low grade on lab tests, doctors might remove it surgically and not give you chemo. This is called resectable osteosarcoma. But doctors might also recommend chemo if the tumor is high grade or if it has spread to other parts of the body.
Most people with osteosarcoma get chemo before surgery and then again afterward to kill any cancer cells that might have survived during surgery. You might also get a combination of chemo drugs and radiation therapy. Scientists are working on newer types of chemo and stronger, more targeted radiation therapies. You may be able to participate in clinical trials to try these treatments before they’re widely available.