Sarcoma - Medical Negligence Solicitors – Compensation Claims

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Sarcomas in humans are very rare and have multiple names depending on the origin of the sarcoma.

A sarcoma is a cancer that arises from mutated mesenchymal cells. This means that the cells can have an origin in bone, cartilage, muscle, vascular tissue, fat and haematopoietic tissues. This is completely unlike epithelial cell cancers which are called carcinomas.

There are two types of sarcomas: bone sarcomas and soft tissue sarcomas. Soft tissue sarcomas develop from softer tissues like fat, muscle, nerves, blood vessels, fibrous tissues or deep skin tissues. They can be found in any part of the body, including the trunk, head and neck, and extremities. Even internal organs are affected. There are many types of soft tissue sarcomas and not all are considered cancerous. There are about fifty different types of soft tissue sarcomas. There are tumours that come from fat such as the benign lipoma and the benign lipoblastomas. Liposarcomas are cancerous an usually show up behind the knee, in the back of the abdomen and the thigh. They occur in patients aged 50-65.

Muscle tumours involve soft tissue sarcomas. There are smooth muscle tumours and skeletal muscle tumours. Benign tumours include leiomyomas and rhabdomyomas. Leimyosarcomas are malignant tumors of smooth muscle. They are most likely found in the back of the abdomen and are less often seen in the deep tissues of the legs or arms. They are more common in the elderly.

Sarcomas are given different names depending on the cell of origin. For example an osteosarcoma comes from bony tissue, chondrosarcoma, which resembles cartilage and liposarcoma, which comes from fat. Sarcomas are also graded as low, intermediate or high depending on the character of the cells and on their malignant biological behaviour. Low grade sarcomas are removed surgically, although they sometimes need radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Intermediate and high grade sarcomas are treated with a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. High grade sarcomas are more likely go metastasize and are treated the most aggressively. It’s been discovered that high grade tumours are particularly sensitive to chemotherapy so that focusing on that has made a difference in the survival rate of the various high grade tumors. For example, before chemotherapy the survival rate for osteosarcoma, high grade, was 20 percent. After chemotherapy, the survival rate is about 60-70 percent.

There are a number of sarcomas, each with a unique name. They include Askin’s tumor, chondrosarcoma, Sarcoma botryoides, Ewing’s sarcoma, Malignant hemangioendothelioma, malignant schwannoma, osteosarcoma, soft tissue sarcomas, including alveolar soft part sarcoma, angiosarcoma, desmoid tumor, extraskeletal osteosarcoma, fibrosarcoma, gastrointestinal, stromal tumour, hemangiosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, liposarcoma, lympangiosarcoma, malignant fibrous histiocytoma, neurofibrosarcoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, synovial sarcoma and malignant fibrous histiosarcoma.

Surgery is the most common modality used in treating sarcomas. Now they are using limb-sparing surgery rather than a limb amputation. This technique has been used to save the limbs of at least 90 percent of all cases of extremity sarcoma. The additional therapies of chemotherapy and radiotherapy can be used before or after surgery. If used before surgery, the idea is to de-bulk the tumour, making it easier to completely remove the tumour. People with bony sarcomas are especially sensitive to chemotherapy. Liposarcoma treatment involves surgical resection without the use of chemotherapy. Radiotherapy is sometimes used. In cases of rhabdomyosarcoma, the cancer is treated with surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. The survival rate is about 50-85 percent. Osteosarcoma involves surgical resection of as much of the cancer as possible along with adjuvant chemotherapy. Radiotherapy is sometimes used but it is not as successful as surgery and chemotherapy.

Sarcomas are very rare, with only 2,000 new cases identified per year in the UK. Sarcomas represent only one percent of the total of new cancer cases in that country each year. The most common type of sarcoma is the gastrointestinal stromal tumour or GIST. There are about 500 cases per year in the UK.

Sarcomas can affect people of all ages but things like leiomyosarcoma, chondrosarcoma and GIST are usually found in adults instead of children. High grade bony sarcomas, including Ewing’s sarcoma and osteosarcoma are definitely more common in children and young adults than in adults.


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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here