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Sarcoma is a type of cancer that can occur in various locations in your body. It is the general term for a broad group of cancers that begin in the bones and in the connective tissues (also called soft tissues). Therefore, sarcomas are mostly categorized into two large groups as either bone sarcomas or soft tissue sarcomas. Treatments for sarcomas vary depending on sarcoma type, location and other factors.

Bone Sarcoma

Bone cancer can begin in any bone in the body, but it most commonly affects the pelvis or the long bones in the arms and legs. Bone cancer is rare, making up less than 1 percent of all cancers. In fact, noncancerous bone tumors are much more common than cancerous ones. Some types of bone cancer occur primarily in children, while others affect mostly adults.

Surgical removal is the most common treatment, but chemotherapy and radiation therapy also may be utilized. The decision to use surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy is based on the type of bone cancer being treated. Bone cancers are broken down into separate types based on the type of cell where the cancer began.

The most common types of bone cancer include:

  • Osteosarcoma: the most common form of bone cancer. In this tumor, the cancerous cells produce bone. This variety of bone cancer occurs most often in children and young adults, in the bones of the leg or arm. In rare circumstances, osteosarcomas can arise outside of bones (extraskeletal osteosarcomas).
  • Chondrosarcoma: the second most common form of bone cancer. In this tumor, the cancerous cells produce cartilage. Chondrosarcoma usually occurs in the pelvis, legs or arms in middle-aged and older adults.
  • Ewing sarcoma: tumors most commonly arise in the pelvis, legs or arms of children and young adults.

Signs and symptoms of bone cancer include bone pain; swelling and tenderness near the affected area; weakened bone, leading to fracture; fatigue; and unintended weight loss.

Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Soft tissue sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that begins in the tissues that connect, support and surround other body structures. This includes muscle, fat, blood vessels, nerves, tendons and the lining of the joints. More than 50 subtypes of soft tissue sarcoma exist. Some types are more likely to affect children, while others affect mostly adults. These tumors can be difficult to diagnose because they may be mistaken for many other types of growths.

Soft tissue sarcoma can occur anywhere in the body, but the most common types occur in the arms and legs, and in the abdomen. Because there are so many different types of soft tissue sarcoma, it’s important to determine the exact nature of each tumor so that the best treatments can be chosen. Imaging tests such as CT scans and PET scans, along with tissue biopsies will help determine the type of cancer. Surgical removal is the most common treatment, although radiation and chemotherapy also may be recommended — depending on the size, type, location and aggressiveness of the tumor.

A soft tissue sarcoma may not cause any signs and symptoms in its early stages. As the tumor grows, it may cause noticeable lump or swelling, or pain, if the tumor is pressing on nerves or muscles.