Overview

Sarcoma is a type of cancer that can occur in various locations in your body.

Sarcoma is the general term for a broad group of cancers that begin in the bones and in the soft (also called connective) tissues (soft tissue sarcoma). Soft tissue sarcoma forms in the tissues that connect, support and surround other body structures. This includes muscle, fat, blood vessels, nerves, tendons and the lining of your joints.

There are more than 70 types of sarcoma. Treatment for sarcoma varies depending on sarcoma type, location and other factors.

Sarcoma care at Mayo Clinic

Types

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of sarcoma include:

  • A lump that can be felt through the skin that may or may not be painful
  • Bone pain
  • A broken bone that happens unexpectedly, such as with a minor injury or no injury at all
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss

Causes

It's not clear what causes most sarcomas.

In general, cancer forms when changes (mutations) happen in the DNA within cells. The DNA inside a cell is packaged into a large number of individual genes, each of which contains a set of instructions telling the cell what functions to perform, as well as how to grow and divide.

Mutations might tell cells to grow and divide uncontrollably and to continue living when normal cells would die. If this happens, the accumulating abnormal cells can form a tumor. Cells can break away and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

Risk factors

Factors that can increase the risk of sarcoma include:

  • Inherited syndromes. Some syndromes that increase the risk of cancer can be passed from parents to children. Examples of syndromes that increase the risk of sarcoma include familial retinoblastoma and neurofibromatosis type 1.
  • Radiation therapy for cancer. Radiation treatment for cancer increases the risk of developing a sarcoma later.
  • Chronic swelling (lymphedema). Lymphedema is swelling caused by a backup of lymph fluid that occurs when the lymphatic system is blocked or damaged. It increases the risk of a type of sarcoma called angiosarcoma.
  • Exposure to chemicals. Certain chemicals, such as some industrial chemicals and herbicides, can increase the risk of sarcoma that affects the liver.
  • Exposure to viruses. The virus called human herpesvirus 8 can increase the risk of a type of sarcoma called Kaposi's sarcoma in people with weakened immune systems.

Sarcoma care at Mayo Clinic

Jan. 19, 2019
References
  1. Ferri FF. Sarcoma. In: Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2019. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2019. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Dec. 18, 2018.
  2. Niederhuber JE, et al., eds. Sarcomas of soft tissue. In: Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2014. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Dec. 18, 2018.
  3. Soft tissue sarcoma. Plymouth Meeting, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/default.aspx. Accessed Dec. 18, 2018.
  4. Bone cancer. Plymouth Meeting, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/default.aspx. Accessed Dec. 18, 2018.
  5. Okuno SH (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Jan. 6, 2019.