Bone and Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that can develop in adults or children.

Bone cancer starts in the bone, as opposed to spreading from an organ to the bones.

Soft tissue sarcoma starts in connective tissue, which includes:

  • Blood vessels
  • Fat cells
  • Lymph vessels
  • Muscle
  • Nerves
  • Tendons

Where Do Bone and Soft Tissue Sarcomas Start?

  • About half of bone and soft tissue sarcomas begin in an arm or leg.
  • Around 40 percent start in the torso or belly.
  • About 10 percent start in the head or neck.

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center’s Sarcoma Specialty Care team includes experts in diagnosing and treating both common and rare sarcomas.

Types of Bone and Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Many different types of bone or soft tissue sarcomas can develop and affect the tissues.

  • Angiosarcoma affects the blood or lymph vessels.
  • Chordoma forms in the spinal cord.
  • Chrondrosarcoma forms in cartilage.
  • Ewing tumors develop in children in bone or soft tissue.
  • Fibrosarcoma forms in fibroblasts, common cells in connective tissue.
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) affects the digestive tract.
  • Liposarcoma forms in fat cells.
  • Myxofibrosarcoma forms in connective tissue.
  • Osteosarcoma develops in bone, one of the most common types of bone sarcoma.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma forms in skeletal muscle.

Early Stages of Bone and Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Doctors stage sarcoma based on how large the tumor is and how much the cancer has spread.

Staging most cancers involves looking at:

  • The tumor size.
  • Any lymph node involvement.
  • Whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body.

Doctors call this TNM staging.

In bone and soft tissue sarcoma, grade is another staging factor.

Grade is an assessment of how likely it is that the tumor will spread based on studying the cells under a microscope.

  • Stage I bone or soft tissue sarcoma refers to a tumor that is smaller, not deep, and hasn't spread.
  • Stage II refers to a tumor that is larger than 5 cm, may be deep, and hasn't spread to lymph nodes. However, stage II cancer has a higher grade, meaning it is more likely to spread.
  • Stage III bone or soft tissue sarcoma is similar to stage II but with more potential to spread — or has already spread — to nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage IV sarcoma has already spread to other parts of the body. The tumor can be of any size and grade.

Bone and Soft Tissue Sarcoma Risk Factors

Because the cause of sarcoma is often unknown, researchers can't contribute many risk factors to this disease.

A few known factors that may increase your risk for bone or soft tissue sarcoma include:

  • Advanced age
  • Exposure to vinyl chloride or dioxin
  • Inherited syndromes:
    • Neurofibromatosis
    • Gardner syndrome
    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
    • Retinoblastoma
    • Previous radiation therapy

Bone and Soft Tissue Sarcoma Signs and Symptoms

Most soft tissue sarcomas develop in an arm or leg, and a lump is the first sign. The lump isn't always painful.

Bone and soft tissue sarcoma symptoms vary based on the location of the tumor, but may include:

  • Stomach pain that worsens.
  • Blood in stool or vomit.
  • Pain if the tumor presses on nerves or muscle.
  • Swelling and stiffness in a joint.
  • Swelling of the legs or ankles.

Many of the symptoms of sarcoma overlap with other health conditions.

If you have any of these symptoms, it's vital to see a doctor right away.

Expert Bone and Soft Tissue Sarcoma Care

At UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, our team of experts can review your condition, diagnose your tumor, and tailor a sarcoma treatment plan to meet your needs.

Even if you've received bone or soft tissue sarcoma screening or care at another center, we have treatment options for you.

We also offer cancer risk reduction education and early detection services.

Contact Us About Sarcoma Care

To learn more about sarcoma care or to make an appointment, you can: