Sarcoma, a Greek word meaning 'fleshy growth', carries a more serious definition in the medical industry. The least common type of cancer, sarcomas are malignant tumors that occur in the body's connective tissues. These tissues are supportive cells that connect and surround other body structures. Connective tissues include muscles, fat, fibrous tissues, nerves, blood vessels, bones, and joint tissues.
Sarcomas can develop in any part of the body, but they arise mostly in the feet, legs, and arms. Forty percent of cases occur in the abdomen, chest, shoulders, hips, and back, while the remaining 10% appear around the neck and head. There are close to 100 varieties of sarcoma, all of which can be categorized according to the type of cells that they affect.
1. Bone sarcomas. The most common type of bone tumor is known as an osteosarcoma and arises in the tissues of growing bones. Highly aggressive, it affects primarily teenagers and young adults. Although it can develop in bones in any part of the body, osteosarcoma is found most often in the knee and upper arm regions. Ewing's Sarcoma is a rare type of bone tumor that grows in the immature nerve cells of bone marrow surrounding the chest wall, pelvis, and vertebrae.
2. Muscle tissue sarcomas. Most muscles fall into two groups – skeletal and smooth muscles. Skeletal muscles move bones and are within our control. Smooth muscles line organs and blood vessels and cannot be consciously controlled. Rhabdomyosarcomas are tumors found in growing skeletal muscles in the legs, arms, neck, and head, as well as in the urinary and reproductive organs. More than 50% of rhabdomyosarsarcoma cases attack children under ten. Leiomyosarcomas are smooth muscle sarcomas that affect adults and grow in the gastrointestinal tract, uterus, and other blood vessel linings.
3. Blood and lymph vessel sarcomas. Hemangiosarcomas strike adults in the blood vessels of the trunk, head, and legs. Infantile hemangiopericytomas develop in the same blood vessels, but affect children below four. Kaposi's sarcoma is prevalent in people with immune deficiency diseases such as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Lymph vessel sarcomas are known as lymphangiosarcomas. These malignant tumors grow in the arms and sometimes appear as side effects of radiation therapy for cancer patients.
4. Nerve tissue sarcomas. Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor (MPNST), otherwise known as neurofibrosarcoma, is a tumor in the peripheral nerves of the trunk, arms, or legs. Alveolar soft-part sarcomas are rare and affect young adults in the muscle nerves of the legs and arms.
5. Fat tissue sarcomas. Liposarcomas appear when cancer cells grow in the body's fatty tissues. They can appear anywhere in the body, but usually affect the abdominal area, such as the soft tissues located in the back of the abdominal cavity.
6. Joint tissue sarcomas. Tissues around the joints of the body, especially the knees and ankles, are susceptible to synovial sarcoma, a cancer occurring in adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 40. Synovial sarcoma spreads quickly to other parts of the body through lymph and blood circulation.
7. Fibrous tissue sarcomas. Fibrosarcomas exist in cells that help develop scars around the trunk, arms, or legs. Incidences of this cancer appear in adults between the ages of 30 and 40. Malignant fibrous histiocytomas (MFH) occur in the fibrous tissues of the legs of older people. Dermatofibrosarcomas are cancer cells beneath the surface of the skin of the limbs and trunk.
Sarcomas are silent predators that display no symptoms or warning signs during the initial stages. Difficult to detect at the beginning, the tumors slowly develop into noticeable but painless lumps or swelling. Continued growth of the cancer cells places pressure on nearby nerves and muscles, eventually causing pain and discomfort. If you discover lumps or swelling anywhere on your body, or if you experience painful symptoms of sarcoma, such as blood in the stool or persistent abdominal pain, have yourself examined by a medical specialist immediately.