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What is sarcoma?

Sarcoma is the general term for a broad group of cancers that includes tumors that form in the bones and in the soft tissues in the body. There are two main types of sarcoma: bone sarcomas and soft tissue sarcomas. Sarcomas can develop in children and adults. For children under age 20, approximately 15 percent of cancer diagnoses are sarcomas. Although rare, there are approximately 14,000 new cases of sarcoma diagnosed each year in the United States.

Soft tissue sarcoma

Soft tissues connect, support and surround other body structures. Soft tissues include muscle, fat, blood vessels, nerves, tendons and the lining of your joints. A large variety of soft tissue sarcomas can occur in these areas. Types of soft tissue sarcoma include leiomyosarcoma, liposarcoma, gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) and others1.

Soft tissue sarcoma is a rare form of cancer, but serious. About one percent of all cancers diagnosed are soft tissue cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, About 12,020 new soft tissue sarcomas will be diagnosed in 2014, and 4,740 Americans are expected to die of soft tissue sarcomas.

Bone cancer

There are three types of bone sarcoma: osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma and Ewing’s sarcoma. Bone sarcomas are very rare with approximately 2,890 new cases diagnosed in the United States each year, and approximately 1,410 deaths.

Bone cancer most commonly affects the long bones of the arms and legs. The most common type of primary bone cancer is osteosarcoma. Because it occurs in growing bones, it is most often found in children. Another type of primary bone cancer is chondrosarcoma, which is commonly found in the cartilage on the ends of bones. This cancer occurs more often in older adults. Ewing’s sarcoma can occur as either a bone sarcoma or a soft tissue sarcoma depending upon the original location in the tumor. It occurs most often in children and young adults.

Bone tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Benign bone tumors are rarely life threatening and do not spread within the body; however, they can grow and compress healthy bone tissue.

Signs and symptoms

Soft tissue

Early on, soft tissue sarcoma rarely causes any symptoms. Because soft tissue is very elastic, the tumors can grow quite large before they are felt. The first symptom is usually a painless lump. As the tumor grows and begins to press against nearby nerves and muscles, pain or soreness can occur.


Symptoms of bone cancer can vary depending on the size and location of the tumor. Pain is the most common symptom. Tumors arising in or around the joints often cause swelling and tenderness. Tumors can also weaken the bones and cause fractures. Some other symptoms can be a broken bone, weight loss, fatigue or anemia.

Treatment options

Soft tissue

Soft tissue sarcomas are treated using surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Depending on the size, location, extent and grade (growth rate) of the tumor, a combination of all or some of these treatments may be used.


The treatment of bone cancer depends on the size, location, type and stage of the cancer. Chemotherapy with surgery is often the primary treatment. While amputation of a limb is sometimes necessary, using chemotherapy either before or after surgery has allowed physicians to save the limb and improve survival in many cases. Radiation may be used in Ewing’s sarcoma if surgery is not feasible, or in certain select cases of metastatic disease.

Have symptoms?

If you have signs and symptoms of sarcoma, first make an appointment with your primary care doctor. You will likely undergo tests, such as a bone scan, CT or MRI to determine the cause of your symptoms. If your doctor suspects sarcoma, you will be referred to a specialist for further evaluation and treatment. If you would like to see one of Community's MD Anderson Cancer Network® certified physicians for bone cancer or soft tissue sarcoma, please call 800-777-7775 to make an appointment.


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