Vanderbilt Orthopaedics

Frequently Asked Questions

Is sarcoma cancer?

Are all sarcomas the same?

What kind of people get sarcomas?

What determines whether I have a "good" or "bad" sarcoma?

What is meant by "grade" for sarcomas?

Where can sarcomas spread?

If I have a sarcoma, am I going to die?

What should I ask my doctor before treatment?

Is amputation ever needed for sarcoma?

Will I need chemotherapy?

Will I need radiation therapy?

Are there different forms of radiation therapy?

When will I know if I'm cured?

Does sarcoma run in families?

Can sarcoma be caused by chemicals?

Why am I told that sarcoma is hard to diagnose?

Can injury cause sarcoma?

Who should treat me?

How can my family help me?

What is limb salvage surgery (LSS)?

What is a pathological fracture?

Is metastatic cancer always terminal? 


Is sarcoma cancer? Yes. Sarcoma is a malignant tumor of the musculoskeletal system.  


Are all sarcomas the same? No. Soft-tissue sarcoma covers a wide range of tumors. Some are more aggressive than others. Some are treated with chemotherapy and surgery, others with surgery alone.


What kind of people get sarcomas? Sarcomas affect all kinds of people at different ages.


What determines whether I have a "good" or "bad" sarcoma? Risk factors include: 

  • Where the cancer started
  • How big it is
  • Whether it has already spread
  • Results of biopsy

What is meant by "grade" for sarcomas? Grade is a measure of how aggressive the tumor is. Low-grade tumors usually stay in one place. High-grade tumors often spread to other parts of the body.


Where can sarcomas spread? It depends on where they start. High-grade soft tissue tumors of the limbs most often spread to the lungs. Soft tissue sarcomas in the belly can spread to the liver.


If I have a sarcoma, am I going to die? Not necessarily. Most patients with sarcomas can be cured.


What should I ask my doctor before treatment? Ask your doctor how many sarcoma cases he or she has treated. The most important thing is to find a doctor with plenty of experience treating sarcoma.


Is amputation ever needed for sarcoma? Yes, but less and less often today. Twenty years ago, amputation was almost the only form of treatment for patients with sarcoma of the limbs. Today, only about 10% of patients need amputation.


Will I need chemotherapy? Chemotherapy may be given before an operation for high-risk sarcomas that threaten to spread throughout the body. It is also may be used if your cancer has spread.


Will I need radiation therapy? Radiation therapy is often used keep a sarcoma from coming back.


Are there different kinds of radiation therapy? Yes. Brachytherapy applies radiation through small tubes under the skin. It usually lasts for about 4 or 5 days. External beam radiation is usually given over 4 to 6 weeks for a few minutes a day, 5 days a week.


When will I know if I'm cured? If sarcoma comes back, it usually does so within 2 years. Patients with sarcoma are usually followed for at least 10 years in case the cancer comes back later than normal.


Does sarcoma run in families? It can, but that's very rare. Most patients already have a disease that is known to lead to sarcoma.


Can sarcoma be caused by chemicals? Sometimes people who are exposed to high levels of chemicals can develop sarcoma, but this is very rare.


Why am I told that sarcoma is hard to diagnose? Because sarcoma is rare, few doctors ever see it. This means most doctors don't have the experience they need to spot sarcoma.


Can injury cause sarcoma? This is extremely rare. Sometimes patients first notice a sarcoma when they bump a leg or arm and notice a lump.


Who should treat me? It's very important that you see a doctor who has experience treating sarcoma.


How can my family help me? When it comes to dealing with any kind of cancer, family and friends are vital. Don't be afraid to ask them for support. This can include a ride to the hospital, advice on choosing a doctor, looking after the house while you're out, spiritual support, or any number of things.


What is limb salvage surgery? LSS is a special procedure that removes cancer in bone/soft tissue without amputation. Click here to learn more.


What is a pathological fracture? A sarcoma or metastatic carcinoma growing inside a bone weakens the bone so much that it breaks (fractures). Doctors may need to operate on the cancer and/or bone to fix the problem.


If my cancer is Stage IV, what will happen? Combined chemotherapy, radiation and surgery can stop the cancer from getting worse. Many people with Stage IV cancer can still enjoy many years of fulfilling life.

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