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Sarcoma care

Sarcoma care

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with sarcoma, you likely have questions. The experts at Allina Health can help you learn more about this condition, what you can expect and what are your treatment options.

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What it is

Sarcoma is cancer that forms in the connective tissue of the body. There are two main groups of sarcoma: bone sarcoma (osteosarcoma) and soft tissue sarcoma. Bone sarcoma can form in bone, cartilage or bone marrow. Soft tissue sarcoma occurs in tissue that connects, supports or surrounds other body parts and includes:

  • blood vessels
  • fat
  • fibrous tissue
  • lymph vessels
  • muscles
  • nerves
  • tendons
  • tissues in and around joints.

There are more than 70 types of sarcoma, and the type is based on the tissue it forms in. It is most commonly found in the:

  • abdomen
  • arms
  • head
  • legs
  • neck
  • trunk.

Good to know

Sarcomas are rare. Each year, about 15,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with sarcoma; about 12,000 with soft tissue sarcoma and about 3,000 with osteosarcoma. About 15 percent of all cancer diagnoses in children under age 20 are sarcomas.

While the causes of sarcomas are unknown, some risk factors include:

  • exposure to certain chemicals
    • vinyl chloride, a chemical used in making plastics.
  • history of radiation therapy or chemotherapy
  • long-term lymphedema (swelling)
  • damage or removal of lymph nodes during previous cancer treatments
  • Some genetic disorders, such as
    • Gardner syndrome
    • Gorlin syndrome
    • Inherited retinoblastoma
    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
    • Tuberous sclerosis
    • Von Recklinghausen’s disease
    • Werner syndrome

Good for preventing

In early stages of sarcoma, there are often no symptoms. Over time, signs and symptoms of sarcoma can include:

  • a lump that can be felt through the skin that may or may not be painful
  • bone pain
  • a broken bone that happens unexpectedly, such as with a minor injury or no injury at all
  • abdominal pain that worsens over time
  • blood in the stool or vomiting
  • unexplained weight loss.

You will be asked about your medical history and your doctor will do a physical exam. Other tests may include:

If your provider suspects cancer, you might have a biopsy.

Good for treating


The only way to be certain a tumor is sarcoma is a biopsy (removing a small number of cells to examine under a microscope). Imaging tests may be used before or after biopsy to determine the location and extent of the tumor.

The doctor will choose one of the following types of biopsy depending on where the tumor is.

  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA): A very small needle is placed into the tumor and suction is applied. CT (computed tomography) scans may be used to help guide the needle. Doctors trained to read these types of biopsies then review the small numbers of cells that are drawn into the needle.
  • If the test shows that the tumor may be a sarcoma, another type of biopsy probably will be done to remove a larger piece of tissue.
  • Core needle: The doctor uses a needle slightly larger than the one used in an FNA biopsy to remove a cylindrical sample of tissue.
  • Incisional: An incision (cut) is made in the skin and a small part of tumor is removed
  • Excisional: An incision (cut) is made in the skin and the entire growth is removed surgically

Your doctor may also order imaging tests, such as:

  • CT computed tomography)
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scans
  • chest X-ray
  • ultrasound


Sarcomas usually are treated with a combination of therapies, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. What type of treatment you receive will depend on several factors, including:

  • the location and type of the sarcoma
  • if the cancer has spread
  • possible impact on your body
  • your general health.

Together, you and your health care team will create an individualized plan based on your health, your cancer stage and your needs.

Source: Allina Health Cancer Care
Reviewed by: Allina Health Cancer Care

First published: 6/3/2019
Last reviewed: 6/3/2019

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