While most people focus on barbecues and beach trips to celebrate the month of July, Medical Associates of the Shoals is encouraging people to, please, also take some time to focus on the message behind the yellow ribbon.
July is SARCOMA AWARENESS MONTH – and, although it affects more than 50,000 Americans, along with their families and friends who love them, sarcoma is still often considered to be the “forgotten cancer.”
Sarcomas are a rare group of cancers in which malignant cells form in the bones or soft tissues of the body. Sarcomas grow in connective tissue – cells that connect or support other kinds of tissue in your body.
Webster’s defines “Sarcoma” as a malignant tumor arising in tissue (such as connective tissue, bone, cartilage, or striated muscle) of the mesodermal origin. As the name then suggests, “soft tissue sarcomas” would affect the soft tissues such as fat, muscle, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, and deep skin tissues. “Osteosarcomas” develop in bone; “liposarcomas” form in fat; “rhabdomyosarcomas” form in muscle – but there are actually over 50 sub-types of sarcomas.
Bone and joint cancer is most frequently diagnosed among teenagers, while soft tissue cancers typically affect those 55 years or older. More than 13,000 cases of soft tissue sarcoma and 3,400 cases of bone sarcomas are expected to be diagnosed in the US during 2018, according to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER).
While approximately two thirds of sarcomas are located in the extremities (arms or legs), it is important to recognize that they can affect lives no matter what age and at any location on the body.
Because they are rare and take multiple forms in multiple locations, sarcomas are difficult to detect, often misdiagnosed, and complex to treat. (As with other forms of cancer, treatment can include surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy.)
People with soft tissue sarcomas often have no symptoms, and there may be no signs until a lump grows to a large enough size to be felt. However, even this may often go unnoticed.
The main symptoms for sarcomas include:
LUMP – talk with your medical professional about any lumps larger than 2 inches, those which grow larger, or painful lumps, regardless of their location.
PAIN – in the general area, which may occur, depending on where the tumor is located and if it’s pressed upon by nearby nerves.
INFLAMMATION – which eventually affects the area with swelling as the tumor grows.
LOCATION SPECIFIC SYMPTOMS – impairments or inability to move limbs properly (if on the arms or legs for example), depending on the location. Specific symptoms can reflect the specific type of sarcoma. For example, tumors in the gastrointestinal system can bleed, producing symptoms like blood in the stool, or a stool that has a black, tarry appearance.
OTHER SYMPTOMS – may include weight loss, fatigue, and/or anemia (a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues, potentially leaving you feeling tired and weak).
If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your physician. Keep in mind that sarcomas require a medical diagnosis. Most lumps are not sarcomas. Most common soft-tissue lumps are lipomas, which are made of fat cells and are not cancer. (Lipomas have often been there for many years and rarely change in size.)
Just remember that body changes are simply signals of a “potential problem” that may need medical care. Share your concerns with your physician. Talk with them about any symptoms you experience.
We invite you to help us spread information and awareness of SARCOMA. If more people knew what sarcoma was, perhaps they would get that lump checked out earlier. Earlier diagnosis increases the chances of successful treatment – and THAT is something worth celebrating EVERY month of the year!