A sarcoma is a cancer of the connective tissues.

Think: nerves, muscles, and bones. Sarcomas can arise anywhere in the body and are frequently hidden deep in the limbs. They are often misdiagnosed and assumed to be sports injuries or benign bumps. Sarcomas are rare tumors, comprising less than 1% of adults’ cancers and nearly 21% of children’s cancers.1 They are best diagnosed and treated by a team of doctors with experience in all aspects of sarcoma care. Though sarcomas can be aggressive and difficult to treat, many people survive sarcoma.

Sarcomas are very rare tumors. Conventional oncologists do not see them very often, and taking care of these tumors requires a lot of experience and knowledge. This is why [it is so important to see a sarcoma specialist].
— Dr. K. Kumar Sankhala, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Types of sarcoma

There are more than 50 subtypes of sarcoma, and there are two basic categories of sarcoma: soft tissue sarcoma and bone and joint sarcoma.

  • Soft tissue sarcomas make up less than 1% of all cancer cases. About 11,000 people are diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma in the United States each year.

  • Primary bone sarcomas make up less than 0.2% of all cancer cases. About 2,900 people are diagnosed with bone and joint sarcomas in the United States each year, and almost half of them are under the age of 35.

  • Liposarcoma is a rare sarcoma cancer of connective tissues that resemble fat cells under a microscope. Liposarcomas accounts for up to 18% of all soft tissue sarcomas.

How are sarcomas diagnosed?

A patient may see several doctors and have a variety of medical tests before sarcoma is suspected.

The diagnosis of sarcoma is usually made with a biopsy, when a doctor removes a small part of the tumor for examination. The decisions involved in the biopsy approach can be complex and are best made by a sarcoma specialist.

After the biopsy, a pathologist looks at the tumor tissue under a microscope to make a diagnosis and to determine the tumor’s grade (which indicates how aggressive the tumor is). The determination of which sarcoma a patient is diagnosed with should be done by a skilled pathologist with extensive background in sarcoma pathology. Results of the biopsy and other tests are typically used to provide a disease stage (which indicates how advanced the disease is in the body).

You can learn more about sarcoma diagnosis at sarcomahelp.org