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By In-house Team, Circle Health Group

Sarcoma: Your questions answered

We dive deep into sarcoma and its different types, symptoms, causes, and treatment options. Understand the importance of early detection and how you can stay ahead with proactive measures, especially if you or a loved one are affected by this condition

What is sarcoma?

Sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that affects connective tissues. It can be found in various tissues including bone or muscle. These malignant tumours can develop in connective tissues anywhere in the body but are most common in the arms, legs, chest, and abdomen. Early detection is of immense importance as it significantly enhances the chance of successful treatment and containment of the disease.

Sarcoma falls into two primary categories: soft tissue sarcomas and bone sarcomas, each with its unique characteristics and challenges.

What are the types of sarcoma?

Understanding the different types of sarcoma provides a clearer perspective on its complex nature and is the first step towards a targeted approach to treatment. Sarcomas are split into soft tissue sarcomas and bone sarcomas.

Soft tissue sarcoma

A soft tissue sarcoma (STS) is any form of sarcoma that affects the soft tissues of the body, such as the muscles, tendons, fat, lymph vessels, blood vessels, and nerves. Some of the more common types of soft tissue sarcoma include:

  • Leiomyosarcoma: Originates in smooth muscles, commonly found in the uterus, gastrointestinal tract, and blood vessels
  • Liposarcoma: This type starts in the fat cells and is most commonly found in the thigh, behind the knee, or inside the back of the abdomen

There are many other types of soft tissue sarcomas including fibrosarcomas, soft tissue Ewing sarcomas and synovial sarcomas

Bone sarcoma

Bone sarcoma, is a rare cancer that arises from the bones. The most common types of bone sarcomas include:

  • Osteosarcoma: This is the most common form of bone sarcoma, typically occurring in teenagers and young adults, particularly around the knee and upper arm
  • Ewing sarcoma: Often occurring in children and young adults, this type can develop in bones, but often starts in the soft tissues surrounding bones

These are just a few examples, and there are many subtypes of bone sarcomas with varying degrees of rarity and severity.

What are the symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma?

Identifying the symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma early on is crucial for a timely diagnosis and treatment. Common symptoms include:

  • Unusual lumps or swelling: A noticeable lump or swelling that may or may not be tender to the touch. This is often the first sign of soft tissue sarcoma
  • Pain or soreness: Pain in the affected area as the tumour grows and presses against nerves and muscles
  • Difficulty moving: Depending on the location of the sarcoma, there may be difficulty in moving the affected limb or part of the body

Each type of soft tissue sarcoma may present its own unique set of symptoms, making a thorough examination by a healthcare professional crucial for an accurate diagnosis.

What are the symptoms of bone sarcoma?

When it comes to bone sarcoma, the symptoms may initially be subtle but become more noticeable as the tumour grows. Early awareness and prompt action could make a difference in the effectiveness of the treatment. Common symptoms include:

  • Pain in the affected bone: Pain might be mild and can be mistaken for growing pains or common aches. However, as the tumour enlarges, the pain intensifies, often becoming more persistent at night or with activity
  • Swelling and redness: Over time, the area over the tumour might swell and become tender. The skin over the tumour may appear red
  • Fractures from weakened bones: Sarcomas can weaken the bone, leading to fractures with minimal trauma or stress

What are the causes of sarcoma?

The exact causes of sarcoma are not well understood. However, certain factors can increase the risk of developing this type of cancer. These include:

  • Genetic mutations: Certain inherited genetic mutations can significantly increase the risk of developing sarcoma. These genetic abnormalities affect the cell's ability to control growth and division
  • Radiation exposure: Exposure to high doses of radiation, for example during radiation therapy for other cancers, can increase the risk of developing sarcoma
  • Chemical exposure: Some chemicals, such as vinyl chloride (a chemical used in making plastics), have been linked to an increased risk of sarcoma

Identifying and understanding these potential causes can help in developing preventive measures and early intervention strategies, especially for those at a higher risk.

While anyone can develop sarcoma, certain factors can significantly increase the risk... We advise you to seek medical advice if you believe you may be at a higher risk of sarcoma.

Who is most at risk?

While anyone can develop sarcoma, certain factors can significantly increase the risk. Being aware of these risk factors and having regular check-ups can aid in early detection and treatment. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Genetic predispositions: Individuals with certain inherited syndromes such as Li-Fraumeni Syndrome or Neurofibromatosis have a higher risk of developing sarcoma
  • Previous radiation treatment: Individuals who have had radiation therapy for other types of cancer are at a higher risk for developing sarcoma in the irradiated area
  • Chemical exposures: Exposure to certain chemicals, such as vinyl chloride, arsenic, or herbicides, can increase the risk of sarcoma

We advise you to seek medical advice if you believe you may be at a higher risk of sarcoma. Medical professionals can provide personalised advice based on your individual circumstances and medical history.

What treatments are available for sarcoma?

The treatment of sarcoma largely depends on the type, location, and stage of the cancer. It often involves a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals. Here are some common treatment options:

Surgical intervention

Surgery is often the primary treatment for sarcoma. The goal is to remove the cancer along with some surrounding healthy tissue to ensure no cancer cells are left behind.

  • Wide local excision: This procedure involves removing the tumour along with some surrounding healthy tissue to minimise the chance of recurrence
  • Amputation: In severe cases or when the tumour is located in a challenging position, amputation might be considered to prevent the spread of cancer

Surgical interventions require thorough discussion and consideration with your healthcare team to understand the implications and the potential need for reconstructive surgery post-procedure.


Radiotherapy (also known as radiation therapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It can be employed before surgery to shrink the tumour, making it easier to remove, or post-surgery to eliminate any remaining cancer cells.

  • Reducing tumour size: Radiation therapy can shrink tumours, facilitating easier surgical removal
  • Killing cancer cells: Post-operative radiation can help in eradicating any remaining cancerous cells, reducing the risk of recurrence


Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to kill or slow down the growth of cancer cells.

  • Killing cancer cells: Chemotherapy can be effective in killing cancer cells, especially in certain types of sarcoma such as Ewing sarcoma
  • Preventing spread: It may also prevent the spread of cancer to other parts of the body

Each of these treatments has its benefits and challenges, which should be discussed thoroughly with your healthcare provider.

How is a sarcoma diagnosis made?

The path to a correct diagnosis often involves multiple steps to find out the presence and extent of sarcoma.

  • Physical examination: A thorough physical examination by a specialist who will look for any visible signs and symptoms
  • Imaging tests: These might include X-rays, CT scans, or MRI to visualise the tumour and determine its size and location
  • Biopsy and histopathological evaluation: A biopsy involves taking a small sample of tissue from the tumour which is then examined under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis

These diagnostic steps are crucial for developing an effective treatment plan tailored to the individual's needs.

Early detection and intervention significantly affect the outcome of sarcoma treatment.

How can you monitor and address symptoms?

Early detection and intervention significantly affect the outcome of sarcoma treatment. Here's how you can stay proactive:

  • Regular check-ups: Especially for individuals at higher risk, regular medical check-ups can help in early detection
  • Early consultation with specialists: If you notice symptoms like unusual lumps or persistent pain, consulting with specialists at the earliest is advisable
  • Lifestyle modifications: Reducing exposure to known risk factors and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can potentially reduce the risk of sarcoma

Being well-informed and proactive in monitoring and addressing symptoms is a positive step towards better health outcomes.

Where can I find more support and information?

Navigating the path of sarcoma can feel overwhelming, but you don't have to do it alone.

  • Leading sources: Websites of reputable organisations such as Cancer Research UK, Macmillan and Sarcoma UK offer a wealth of information on sarcoma
  • Support groups: Connecting with others who are going through similar experiences can be comforting. Look for local or online support groups dedicated to sarcoma patients and their families

Knowledge and support can empower you in your journey towards better health.

Take vital early action against sarcoma

Awareness, early detection, and consulting with medical professionals are crucial steps toward precise diagnosis and effective treatment of sarcoma. At Circle Health, we're committed to providing expert care and guidance in your healthcare journey.

  • Speak with our experts: If you or a loved one is facing a sarcoma diagnosis or related concerns, we encourage you to reach out to Circle Health Group for consultation and support. Our experienced oncologists are here to help
  • Book an appointment: Is it time to address your concerns with a sarcoma specialist? Book an appointment online today, or give us a call directly, and we'll help you find the right specialist for you.

Together, let's take proactive steps towards better health and wellbeing.

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If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on this subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Circle Hospital.