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It’s One of the Rarest Forms of Cancer, but Could You be at Risk of Sarcoma?

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Cancer, and all of the fears and worries it carries, comes in many forms, sarcoma being one of the most dangerous, albeit one of the rarest, accounting for only one percent of all adult cancer cases. Sarcoma is a type of cancer that forms in the bones or soft tissues. It can develop in the muscles, fat cells, or nerves, meaning that it can occur in any part of the body. Doctors identify around 17,000 new sarcoma diagnoses each year. So what are the risk factors for this dangerous condition, and are there steps you can take to minimize your chances of a diagnosis during your lifetime? Read on to find out.

Who is at Risk for Sarcoma?

While sarcoma is rare in adults, it represents around 15 percent of all childhood cancer cases. Researchers have identified a few factors that could increase one’s risk of a sarcoma diagnosis, which are:

  • Cancer radiation treatment, which accounts for less than five percent of sarcoma cases, and often does not develop until about ten years after an affected area was treated with radiation
  • A damaged lymph system, possibly as the result of radiation therapy, can cause swelling (lymphedema) that in rare cases, in turn, can cause lymphangiosarcoma, a tumor in the lymph vessels
  • Chemical exposure, particularly vinyl chloride (a chemical used in making plastics), arsenic, dioxin, and herbicides containing high doses of phenoxyacetic acid
  • Some family cancer syndromes that are caused by gene mutations, including:
    • Gardner syndrome, a disease that can cause colon and intestinal polyps
    • Neurofibromatosis (von Recklinghausen disease), a condition that can cause benign tumors in nerves under the skin and other body parts
    • Retinoblastoma, a type of childhood eye cancer
    • Werner syndrome, which creates health complications in children typically only experienced by seniors, such as cataracts, arteriosclerosis, and skin changes
    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome, which leaves its patients sensitive to the cancer-causing effects of radiation
    • Tuberous sclerosis, which can cause seizures and learning problems in addition to increasing one’s risk of sarcoma
    • Gorlin syndrome (nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome [NBCCS]), which increases one’s risk of developing basal cell skin cancers, fibrosarcoma, and rhabdomyosarcoma

What are the Symptoms of Sarcoma?

Symptoms of sarcoma vary, depending on where it develops, but may include:

  • A lump that can be felt through the skin, which may or may not be painful
  • Bone pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • An unexpected broken bone, seemingly without a serious injury
  • Weight loss

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, particularly if you know you have any of the risk factors above, such as the noted genetic conditions, talk to your doctor. They can conduct the necessary testing and screening procedures to determine the cause of your discomfort. As with all cancers, early detection is critical for effective treatment, so never hesitate to talk to your doctor if you have any health concerns.