Sarcomas are rare cancers that develop in the muscle, bone, nerves, cartilage, tendons, blood vessels and the fatty and fibrous tissue. There are 3 main types of sarcoma: soft tissue, bone and gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GIST). These main types can break down into around 100 different subtypes.
Bone sarcomas should not be confused with bone cancers that have spread from other sites e.g. lung or breast cancer that has spread to the bone.
Around 3,800 new cases of sarcoma are diagnosed each year in the UK, which makes up approximately 1% of all cancers.
Sarcomas are classified according to the cell type of origin and also by their likely behaviour. If you're a patient of the sarcoma service at The Christie, we will need to look at the size of the tumour and where it is attached in the body and any areas of spread. These can include the skin, soft tissues, blood, bone and nerves. The outcome of these investigations will inform of us whether they can be removed surgically and whether any reconstructive surgery will be required.
Most common sarcoma sites
Soft tissue sarcomas
- Extremities - arms, legs
- Retro-peritoneal - back of the tummy (abdomen)
- Breast/chest wall/trunk
- Gastrointestinal stromal cell tumour (GIST)
- Womb (uterus)
- Head and neck
Like most cancers, sarcomas tend to increase in frequency with age. However, some sarcomas such as Ewing sarcoma, rhabdomyosarcomas and osteosarcomas can be common in the younger age group. The treatment for these sarcomas tend to be a combination of chemotherapy and surgery, but can sometimes include radiotherapy.
Gastrointestinal stromal cell tumours (GIST) are a particularly rare tumour. They are usually treated with surgery and systemic anti-cancer therapies (SACT).
Lumps and bumps service (diagnostic sarcoma service)
The diagnostic sarcoma service at Manchester University Foundation Trust and District Hospital NHS Trust (RJAH) in Oswestry is sometimes called the ‘lumps and bumps’ service. Patients who do not have a sarcoma but have a ‘fibrous’ tumour may also get referred to this service. This includes patients with fibromatosis or a giant cell tumour.
Referral to this service does not necessarily mean that you have a sarcoma.
These tumours are sometimes known as desmoid tumours. They are benign tumours, meaning they're not cancerous.
You would not be referred to The Christie for most benign tumours of fat, bone or blood vessels. However although Desmoid tumours do not usually spread to other parts of the body, they can spread into nearby tissues and cause damage. They have a wide range of behaviours from remaining slow-growing and only requiring observation to causing symptoms that require treatment with medication, radiotherapy or SACT. This is why you may be referred to the sarcoma service at The Christie for management of this condition.
As a major sarcoma centre, we are involved in teaching and training nationally and internationally, clinical audit and clinical trials.