A sarcoma is a malignant tumour that originates from the transformed cells of mesenchymal origin, which can develop in different areas of the body. It is one of the rarest kinds of cancers and quite different from carcinomas as these develop in different types of tissues. The tumours are most likely to develop in the bones, muscles, tendons, nerves, fat and blood vessels in body. There are more than 50 different types of sarcoma, which are primarily grouped into 2 categories – soft tissue sarcoma and bone sarcoma. These include the following:
- Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans
- Desmoplastic small round cell tumours
- Epithelioid sarcoma
- Ewing sarcoma
- Gastrointestinal stromal tumour (GIST)
- Kaposi’s sarcoma
Various signs and symptoms associated with sarcoma include:
- Frequent bouts of pain in the affected bone
- Pain that worsens with movement or at night
- Limp (if the tumour is in the leg)
- A mass or lump that can be felt through the skin
- Swelling in the limbs (In case of children)
- Getting fractures very easily
- General body weakness and fatigue
Although the exact cause of sarcoma has not been determined yet, the problem has been associated with abnormal mutations in the DNA of the cells, as a result of which they grow and multiply at a very rapid pace and gradually replace the healthy surrounding tissue. In severe cases, the cancer may metastasize to other areas of the body via the bloodline.
What are the various risk factors associated with sarcoma?
Various risk factors that are known to increase the chances of developing sarcoma include:
- Family history of the malignancy
- Underlying conditions like Paget’s disease
- An underlying genetic disorder like neurofibromatosis and retinoblastoma
- Exposure to radiations, chemicals and certain toxins.
- Being infected with certain viruses, such as human herpesvirus 8
- Physical exam to evaluate the symptoms and assess the mass or lump
- Imaging tests like CT (computerized tomography) scan, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography) scan, for further assessment and determining the size, location and structure of the tumour.
- Biopsy which involves the thorough examination of a tissue sample collected from the affected area of the patient’s body, to look for traces of cancer
- Surgery, which aims at extracting the tumour and may also include the amputation of the affected limb.
- Radiation therapy, which targets cancerous cells using high-intensity radiations. This helps to destroy cancerous cells as well as reduce the size of the tumour
- Chemotherapy, which helps to destroy cancerous cells by using certain drugs. Some sarcomas respond better to chemotherapy as compared to others.
- Targeted therapy, which targets specific weaknesses in the cancerous cells and destroys them.
- Immunotherapy, which uses specialised drugs to enhance and boost the patient’s immune system and helps it to fight malignancy.
- Ablation therapy, which uses extreme heat or cold to target and destroys cancerous cells.