Sarcoma is a rare cancer, which is also quite versatile in terms of where it primarily develops. Sarcoma is different than other cancers because it develops in a connective tissue. Given that this tissue is throughtout the body, sarcoma can develop in many parts: in the bones, nerves, muscles, cartilage, tendons, fatty tissues, or blood vessels.
There are around 100 types of sarcoma, divided into two main groups:
- Soft tissue sarcomas
- Bone sarcoma
The soft tissue sarcomas are more frequent. They further divide depending on the location of the cancer and can be:
- leiomyosarcoma – affecting the muscle tissue
- liposarcoma – affecting the fat tissue
- angiosarcoma – affecting the blood or lymph vessels
- gastrointestinal stromal tumours – affecting the digestive system organs
- rhabdomyosarcoma – affecting the muscle and connective tissue
- Kaposi’s sarcoma – affecting the skin
- synovial sarcoma
- malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor
- undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma
Bone sarcomas are divided into: Ewing’s sarcoma, chondrosarcoma, chordoma, and osteosarcoma.
Sarcoma can also affect the female reproductive system, too, referred to as gynecological sarcomas.
The symptoms of sarcoma vary depending on the location of the sarcoma type. Generally, the symptoms occur around the area affected. The symptoms are:
- abdominal pain
- constipation, or fullness
- lump under the skin, which can become bigger
- pain in the affected bone
- swelling in the affected area
- weight loss
- blood stools
- heavy periods or bleeding in between periods (for gynecological sarcoma)
- vaginal bleeding after menopause
- vaginal bloody discharge
- a lump on the vulva
The cause of sarcomas is not exactly known. The cancer develops when the cells multiply uncontrollably instead of undergoing the normal cycle from their formation to their death. These cells form tumours.
One type of soft tissue sarcomas, Kaposi’s sarcoma, is known to be caused by a virus, human herpes virus type 8 (HHV-8), which infects HIV patients.
The risk factors of developing sarcoma are:
- Age – although sarcoma can occur at any age, soft tissue sarcomas affect elderly people
- Paget’s disease
- Genetic disorder
- Genetic factors – if someone in the family had sarcoma
- Previous exposure to radiation
- Exposure to chemical
- Previous radiotherapy