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Sarcoma is a type of cancer that forms in the connective tissues of the body, which include the bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons and blood vessels. There are two main types of sarcoma—soft tissue sarcoma and osteosarcoma—and more than 70 unique subtypes within these two categories. 

One of the inherent difficulties to diagnosing sarcoma is that there is no proven screening process for the dozens of different types of this cancer. Sarcoma, in general, doesn’t often cause any outward symptoms, and if it does, the pain-related symptoms that develop can often be explained by more common medical issues. Bone pain, for instance, might be discounted as growing pains. This further complicates the diagnostic process, requiring a specialist to determine the exact type of sarcoma in the body and the extent of the tumor formation.

Soft tissue sarcoma vs. osteosarcoma

Soft tissue sarcoma can develop in the muscles, cartilage, tendons, fat, blood vessels and other soft tissue anywhere in the body. In most cases, this disease does not cause any symptoms and, at most, may result in the growth of a small, painless lump in the body. If one does experience symptoms, they are often localized to the area of the body where the tumor is located. As such, symptoms can vary widely and may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding
  • Walking difficulties
  • Constipation
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Black stools
  • Blood in the stool 

Osteosarcoma, on the other hand, is a form of cancer that affects bone. It is most prevalent in teenagers, with some of the first signs being bone pain and swelling that worsens at night. In the early stages of osteosarcoma, symptoms can come and go, making it hard to notice a pattern to speak with a doctor about. Along with localized pain and swelling in the affected bone, this type of sarcoma can cause several other symptoms, including:

  • Pain that radiates to the area surrounding the affected bone
  • Limping or a change in gait if the sarcoma is in the leg
  • Reduced mobility
  • A bump that can be felt through the skin
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Redness or warmth at the site of the tumor
  • Anemia
  • Unusual exhaustion

Where does sarcoma usually start?

With both types of sarcoma, the tumors usually originate in the soft tissues or bones in the arms or legs. Since osteosarcoma primarily affects teenagers, the tumors often develop in areas where the bones are growing. Therefore, they are most common in the distal femur (lower thigh bone), proximal tibia (upper shinbone) and proximal humerus (upper arm bone). Soft tissue sarcoma can be found in the muscles, nerves, tissues, blood vessels and fat of the arms or legs.

What causes sarcoma?

Researchers in the general medical community are still exploring the exact cause of sarcoma, although most agree that it is likely a result of DNA gene mutations, which can be passed from parent to child or acquired during a person’s lifetime. What’s more, scientists have identified several risk factors that may increase a person’s chances of getting this disease. They include:

  • Having an inherited condition that is associated with soft tissue sarcoma, including Li-Fraumeni syndrome, neurofibromatosis, hereditary retinoblastoma, familial adenomatous polyposis, Werner syndrome and tuberous sclerosis
  • Having lymphedema or a damaged lymphatic system that causes fluid to collect in soft tissues
  • Being exposed to certain carcinogens, such as herbicides or chlorophenols, on a long-term basis
  • Receiving radiation therapy for another condition

Sarcoma treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center

At Moffitt Cancer Center, our multispecialty sarcoma team diagnoses and treats all types of sarcoma. Our team includes medical oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons and other professionals who all focus solely on sarcomas and are committed to providing individualized, comprehensive care to our patients. Our specialists offer a wide range of treatments for sarcoma, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and limb preservation. We also have a robust clinical trials program to provide our patients the widest range of advanced treatments. It’s because of our dedication to research that Moffitt has been awarded the distinction of a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Care Center. 

At Moffitt Cancer Center, your cancer diagnosis is our top priority, and you can speak with a cancer expert as quickly as possible. Call 1-888-663-3488 or use our online new patient registration form to get in touch.