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A sarcoma is a form of cancer that develops from tissues or bone. There are many sub-types of sarcomas, with the two major categories being soft tissue sarcomas and bone sarcomas. The major forms of soft tissue sarcoma are most commonly found in tissue surrounding muscles, blood vessels, tendons, fat, and nerves in the arms and legs, but can develop anywhere in the body. Bone sarcomas, which develop in bone cells, can arise in all areas, but they most often occur in the arms, legs, or pelvis. There are many forms of bone cancers, but not all bone cancers are sarcomas.


  • Sarcomas account for about 1 percent of adult cancers and about 15 percent of childhood cancers.
  • In the U.S., about 11,930 new cases of soft tissue sarcoma are expected to be diagnosed in 2015, resulting in approximately 4,870 deaths.
  • There are approximately 800 new cases of bone sarcoma in the U.S. every year.
  • Of the new cases of bone sarcoma, about half occur in children and teenagers.

Risk Factors 

There are no concrete reasons for developing sarcomas, but certain risk factors have been identified based on common characteristics in individuals who developed the disease, including:

  • High doses of radiation exposure from treatments for other cancers; however, radiation treatment techniques have improved to ensure the targeted area is treated more precisely so effects on surrounding tissues and organs are minimized.
  • Individuals exposed to herbicides with phenoxyacetic acid and wood preservatives with chlorophenols have a higher risk.
  • Individuals with certain inherited diseases, including Li-Fraumeni, Werner, or Gorlin syndromes, or von Recklinghausen’s disease, have an increased risk of developing a soft-tissue sarcoma.
  • Damage to a person’s lymph system, which can occur through surgery or radiation therapy, is also a risk factor associated with soft-tissue sarcoma.

Signs and Symptoms 

In the early stages, it can be difficult to determine if a sarcoma is present and can go undetected for a long period of time. Suspicious lumps or swollen areas of the body should be evaluated by a physician, who may conduct a biopsy to determine if the lump is a malignant tumor or benign. Over time, tumors will grow, become sore and eventually cause pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness because the tumor presses against nerves or muscles.

Tips for Prevention 

There are no known ways to prevent the development of a bone or soft-tissue sarcoma. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and getting regular check-ups are the best ways to reduce the risk for developing all forms of cancer.

Treatment Options 

Once a sarcoma is diagnosed, the treatment plan will be based on type, location, stage, and the patient’s overall health. Depending on the cancer’s location, as well as its stage of development, surgery is an option for treatment. For a soft-tissue sarcoma, tissue in distant sites is sometimes removed if the disease has spread to other areas. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy may also be used to shrink the tumor before surgery. Following the surgery, patients may need radiation therapy or chemotherapy to improve the chances of eliminating all tumor cells.

Source: American Cancer Society, American Society of Clinical Oncology, Sarcoma Foundation of America