Sarcoma awareness month: knowing the signs of sarcoma

By Dr Suma Kuna, MacMillan GP and Clinical Lead for Cancer and Palliative Care, Warrington CCG

July is #SarcomaAwareness Month, a condition which 75% of people in the UK are not aware of.

Dr Suma Kuna raises awareness to the general public, of what sarcoma cancer is, and the signs to look out for because survival can be improved by early detection.

What are sarcomas?

Sarcomas are uncommon cancers that can affect any part of the body including bone, muscle, ligaments, fatty tissue and blood vessels. 

15 people are diagnosed with sarcoma every day in the UK, which is about 5,300 people a year.

There are over 100 sub types of sarcomas that have been identified. Soft tissue sarcomas account for 88% of the total number and bone sarcomas account for the remaining. 

Sarcomas can affect at any age but they are more common in middle age and the elderly population. The exact cause of sarcomas largely remains unknown, but some genetic conditions like neurofibromatosis, exposure to certain chemicals like vinyl chloride and previous treatments like radiotherapy have all been thought to be relevant.  

Arms, legs and tummy are most commonly affected by sarcoma.

What are the symptoms?

The key symptom is a lump that is growing and often very quickly with or without pain. The latest available evidence suggests, that the majority of sarcomas are diagnosed when they are about 10 cm size which is roughly about the size of a large tin of baked beans.  

Other areas to be affected by soft tissue sarcomas include stomach, intestine, female reproductive system and behind the abdominal linings.

The symptoms vary depending on where the sarcoma develops and they include swelling with or without pain, persistent fullness in tummy, constipation, breathlessness, lasting cough, abnormal vaginal bleeding in women. Bone sarcomas can present as bone pain and swelling. 

How are sarcomas treated?

With treatment, on average, 78% of people diagnosed with sarcoma live beyond one year and 5-year survival is about 55%. The survival largely depends on the type of sarcoma and the spread at the time of diagnosis.

Hence, the survival can be improved by early detection as the surgical treatment can be effective at this stage. Other treatment options include chemotherapy and radiotherapy. 

Although most of the time, there may not be apparent symptoms in the initial stages, if you have any growing lump or any persistent symptoms as explained above, you should speak to your doctor.

Remember, most of the time, lumps can be non-cancerous but getting it checked out might give more clarification regarding the type of lump.

If in doubt, your doctor might arrange for a scan or arrange for you to be seen by the specialists.  

Other useful resources: