Sarcoma Awareness Week - what is sarcoma?

4 minute read time.

This week is Sarcoma Awareness Week. According to research, 75% of people are not sure, or do not know, what sarcoma is. In this blog, Information Development Nurse Teri gives an overview of the most common types of sarcoma and what symptoms to be aware of and tell your GP about.

a banner displaying the words SARCOMA AWARENESS WEEK

Many of you may not have heard of the word sarcoma. Even if you have heard of sarcomas, you may not be sure what they are. For those who are unsure, sarcomas are a rare type of cancer that affects about 5,300 people in the UK each year.

Sarcomas develop in connective tissue. This tissue is made up of cells that connect or support other kinds of tissue in our bodies. Sarcomas can develop in any part of the body, including muscle, bone, blood vessels and fatty tissues.

What types of sarcoma are there?

There are many different types of sarcoma that are more broadly divided into 2 types:

Soft tissue sarcomas

Soft tissue sarcomas can develop in soft tissues such as, fat, muscle, nerves and blood vessels. Each type of soft tissue sarcoma is named after the type of cell it started from.

Some of the most common soft tissue sarcomas include:

  • Fat tissue sarcomas called liposarcomas. They usually develop in the thigh or the area at the back of the tummy (retroperitoneum). They are most commonly diagnosed in people aged 50 to 65.
  • Smooth muscle sarcomas called leiomyosarcoma (LMS). They usually develop in the tummy, retroperitoneum and pelvic area. They are most commonly diagnosed in people over 50.
  • Skeletal muscle sarcomas called rhabdomyosarcomas. They usually develop in the head and neck, but can also develop in the bladder, vagina, arms or legs. They are most commonly diagnosed in children.

The symptoms will depend on the part the body that is affected.

The main symptom is:

  • a lump or swelling that is getting bigger or is bigger than 5cm (2 inches) – about the size of a golf ball and feels painful or tender.

Other symptoms may include:

  • tummy (abdominal) pain, vomiting and constipation
  • cough or breathlessness
  • having dark coloured poo or vomiting blood
  • having symptoms of anaemia (a low number of red blood cells), feeling breathless and tired
  • unexplained bleeding from the vagina or pain in the lower abdomen.

Most soft tissue lumps are not cancer. But if you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to get them checked by your GP.

We have more information about signs and symptoms of a soft tissue sarcoma.

Bone sarcomas

A bone sarcoma or primary bone cancer is less common than a soft tissue sarcoma. It can affect any bone in the body but most commonly it affects the legs.

The most common types of sarcoma that start in the bone include:

  • Osteosarcoma – the most common type of bone sarcoma. It’s most common in teenagers, young adults and adults in their 60s, but people of any age can be affected
  • Ewing sarcoma – more common in teenagers and young adults, but it can occur at any age. Although it usually starts in the bones, a Ewing sarcoma, can sometimes start in the soft tissues of the body. This is called a soft tissue Ewing sarcoma.
  • Chondrosarcoma – usually a slow-growing tumour and is most common in middle-aged people.

Possible symptoms to be aware of are:

  • pain or tenderness in the area of the tumour that doesn’t go away and may be made worse by exercise and feels worse at night
  • swelling around the affected area of bone
  • reduced movement, that may cause limping – or weakness, numbness and tingling in the limbs
  • a broken bone after a minor fall or accident.

Other symptoms can include tiredness, a high temperature, increased sweating and weight loss.

Many of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions that are much more common than bone cancer. But always see your GP if you have pain in your bones, that lasts longer than a few weeks and has no obvious cause. They should refer you to a bone specialist (orthopaedic doctor) to find out the cause. We have more information about signs of symptoms of a primary bone cancer.


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