Sarcomas are rare cancers that occur in bone and soft tissue, such as fat, muscle, blood vessels, tendons, and nerves. Bone sarcomas include osteosarcoma and Ewing’s sarcoma, while soft-tissue sarcomas include chondrosarcoma and rhabdomyosarcoma.
Because of their rarity, sarcomas often receive less attention than more common types of cancer. However, there are many ways you can help raise awareness and increase funding for sarcoma research.
There are 57 different types of cancer, and many of them are represented by a color or a ribbon. A specific month is often designated for each one, and advocacy groups strive to raise awareness of the disease by encouraging people to wear a particular ribbon during that month.
For example, colon cancer is represented by a dark blue ribbon and promoted in September, because that’s the month when people are most likely to receive regular screening to identify polyps before they become cancerous. The color yellow is also used to promote ovarian cancer, which can be difficult to diagnose because it has few symptoms in its early stages.
The yellow ribbon is also associated with endometriosis, and it is worn and promoted in March for that condition. Some people who want to call attention to all types of cancer use a light purple ribbon. The same color, however, is sometimes used to represent esophageal cancer, Hodgkin lymphoma, pancreatic cancer and leukemia, so the cross-over of colors may confuse some people.
Ewing sarcoma most often occurs in bone but can also occur in the soft tissue near bones. It is most common in teenagers and young adults, but can happen at any age.
The diagnosis of Ewing sarcoma is made by taking a sample of the tumor (biopsy) to look at under a microscope. Doctors may also order a chest X-ray and computed tomography (CT) scan to check for spread of the cancer to the lungs. A blood test to measure levels of the enzyme lactate dehydrogenase might be elevated in Ewing sarcoma patients.
Treatment for Ewing sarcoma usually includes chemotherapy. This can include a combination of medicines or single agents that target different parts of the cancer cell. Stem cell transplant is sometimes used to replace blood-forming cells that are destroyed by chemotherapy. This therapy uses healthy stem cells taken from your child’s blood or bone marrow before the high doses of chemotherapy are given.
Bone metastasis is when cancer cells break away from the primary tumor in another part of the body and travel to the bone. This can happen in many different types of cancers and is not specific to sarcomas.
When the tumors reach the bones, they can cause pain and weaken them. This can lead to fractures, especially when people participate in regular physical activity or are injured. In some cases, the tumor can press against the spinal cord, causing back pain and numbness in the legs.
Pain is the main symptom that patients will experience when they have bone metastases. This pain is usually felt in the area of the bone where the tumors are located. It can change over time and depend on the type of bone in which the metastases are located, age and health of the patient. X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses large magnets, radiofrequencies and a computer to create detailed images of soft tissues and organs, can help diagnose metastasis in the bones.
Sarcoma Awareness Month
July is Sarcoma Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness of the more than 50 different types of rare cancers that can form in bones and soft tissues. These tumors can be the result of prior radiation, a genetic predisposition or a random mutation.
Because of their similarity to other cancers within organs, sarcomas are often difficult to identify and diagnose at an early stage. However, early detection can lead to improved prognoses and increased survival rates.
If you notice pain or swelling in your bones that doesn’t improve or gets worse, talk to a doctor right away. For children, especially, the symptoms of osteosarcoma may be mistaken for growing pains or a sports injury. It’s also important to talk to your family and friends about the importance of getting regular screenings.