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SynonymsSarcomas, sarcomata
Nibib 030207 105309 sarcoma.jpg
Optical coherence tomography (OCT) image of a sarcoma

A sarcoma is a cancer that arises from transformed cells of mesenchymal (connective tissue) origin. Thus, malignant tumors made of cancellous bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, vascular, or hematopoietic tissues are, by definition, considered sarcomas. This is in contrast to a malignant tumor originating from epithelial cells, which are termed carcinoma. Human sarcomas are quite rare. Common malignancies, such as breast, colon, and lung cancer, are almost always carcinoma.[1] The term is from the Greek σάρξ sarx meaning "flesh".


(ICD-O codes are provided, where available, along with the relevant edition.)

Surgery is important in the treatment of most sarcomas.[2] Limb-sparing surgery, as opposed to amputation, can now be used to save the limbs of patients in at least 90% of extremity tumor cases.[2] Additional treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy, may be administered before and/or after surgery.[3] Chemotherapy significantly improves the prognosis for many sarcoma patients, especially those with bone sarcomas.[4] Treatment can be a long and arduous process, lasting about a year for many patients.[3]

  • Liposarcoma treatment consists of surgical resection, with chemotherapy not being used outside of the investigative setting. Adjuvant radiotherapy may also be used after surgical excision for liposarcoma.[5]
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma is treated with surgery, radiotherapy, and/or chemotherapy.[6] The majority of rhabdomyosarcoma patients have a 50–85% survival rate.[7]
  • Osteosarcoma is a tumor of the bone that is treated with surgical resection of as much of the cancer as possible, often along with neoadjuvant chemotherapy.[8] Radiotherapy is a second alternative although not as successful.




Sarcomas are given a number of different names based on the type of tissue that they most closely resemble. For example, osteosarcoma resembles bone, chondrosarcoma resembles cartilage, liposarcoma resembles fat, and leiomyosarcoma resembles smooth muscle.


In addition to being named based on the tissue of origin, sarcomas are also assigned a grade (low, intermediate, or high) based on the presence and frequency of certain cellular and subcellular characteristics associated with malignant biological behavior. Low-grade sarcomas are usually treated surgically, although sometimes radiation therapy or chemotherapy are used. Intermediate- and high-grade sarcomas are more frequently treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy.[3] Since high-grade tumors are more likely to undergo metastasis (invasion and spread to locoregional and distant sites), they are treated more aggressively. The recognition that many sarcomas are sensitive to chemotherapy has dramatically improved the survival of patients. For example, in the era before chemotherapy, long-term survival for patients with localized osteosarcoma was only about 20%, but now has risen to 60–70%.[9]


Sarcomas are quite rare, with only 15,000 new cases per year in the United States.[10] Sarcomas, therefore, represent about 1% of the 1.5 million new cancer diagnoses in the country each year.[11]

Sarcomas affect people of all ages. Around 50% of bone sarcomas and 20% of soft-tissue sarcomas are diagnosed in people under the age of 35.[12] Some sarcomas, such as leiomyosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, and gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), are more common in adults than in children. Most high-grade bone sarcomas, including Ewing's sarcoma and osteosarcoma, are much more common in children and young adults.


In the US, July is widely recognized as Sarcoma Awareness Month.[13] The UK has a Sarcoma Awareness Week in July led by Sarcoma UK, the bone and soft-tissue cancer charity.[14]


  1. ^ International Agency for Research on Cancer (2002). Pathology and Genetics of Tumours of Soft Tissue and Bone. St. Louis: WHO Press. ISBN 9789283224136.
  2. ^ a b Morris, C (2005). "Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma (MFH)". ESUN. 2 (2). Retrieved 2011-10-19.
  3. ^ a b c Buecker, P (2005). "Sarcoma: A Diagnosis of Patience". ESUN. 2 (5). Retrieved 2009-04-15.
  4. ^ Baker, L (2006). "A Rose is a Rose or a Thorn is a Thorn". ESUN. 3 (5). Retrieved 2011-10-19.
  5. ^ Liposarcoma Treatment & Management~treatment at eMedicine
  6. ^ "Rhabdomyosarcoma". Boston Children's Hospital.
  7. ^ Wexler, L (2004). "Rhabdomyosarcoma". ESUN. 1 (4). Retrieved 2011-10-19.
  8. ^ Osteosarcoma Treatment & Management~treatment at eMedicine
  9. ^ Longhi A, Errani C, De Paolis M, Mercuri M, Bacci G (Oct 2006). "Primary bone osteosarcoma in the pediatric age: state of the art". Cancer Treat Rev. 32 (6): 423–36. doi:10.1016/j.ctrv.2006.05.005. PMID 16860938.
  10. ^ Borden EC, Baker LH, Bell RS, et al. (Jun 2003). "Soft tissue sarcomas of adults: state of the translational science". Clin. Cancer Res. 9 (6): 1941–56. PMID 12796356.
  11. ^ "Cancer Facts & Figures 2009". American Cancer Society.
  12. ^ Darling, J (2007). "A Different View of Sarcoma Statistics". ESUN. 4 (6). Retrieved 2012-10-06.
  13. ^ "Cancer Awareness Dates". American Society of Clinical Oncology.
  14. ^ "Sarcoma Awareness Week 2018". Sarcoma UK. Retrieved 13 April 2018.

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