A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Sarcomas: Rare, tough, treatable

back of skeleton on yellow field with yellow ribbons for bone cancer awarenessSarcomas are rare forms of cancer, accounting for less than 5 percent of all cancers treated at Marshfield Clinic, but they can be among the most painful.

July is Sarcoma Awareness Month, a time to call attention to a form of cancer that can locate in bones or soft tissues. Treatments are often effective and well-tolerated, especially when compared to the past when the only available treatment for many sarcomas was amputation of a leg or arm.

Two types of bone cancer

A malignant tumor that begins in bone tissue is called primary bone cancer. Cancer that spreads to the bones from other parts of the body – breast, lung or prostate – is called metastatic cancer. Primary bone cancer is far less common than metastatic cancer, according to Dr. Seth Fagbemi, a Marshfield Clinic oncologist/hematologist.

“If a patient has a primary tumor of the bone, we can assume it won’t be from someplace else, so surgically removing it is a reasonable operation,” Fagbemi said. “But if a patient has cancer originating from somewhere else rather than the bone, removing it from the bone is unlikely to be part of the treatment. Surgery is typically not an option in that case but the patient’s pain will be treated and it may involve radiation.”

Most patients with bone cancer report very sharp pain as well as swelling and deformity.

For children under 20, about 15 percent of cancer diagnoses are sarcomas. Although rare, approximately 14,000 new cases of sarcoma are diagnosed each year in the United States.

Treatment options have improved

Cancer specialists use all the tools at their disposal to identify, locate and treat bone cancer. Surgery is the usual treatment, depending on the type, size, location and stage of the cancer. In some situations, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and cryosurgery, or freezing cancer cells, are all used for treatment.

“There was a time in the distant past when almost all bone cancers in the extremities led to amputation,” Fagbemi said. “Now with modern surgical techniques, we can preserve limbs as much as possible using treatments available to us.”

Learn more about treatment options for specific bone cancers.

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