Sarcoma and Bone Cancer Awareness Month
Sarcomas are a rare group of cancers in which malignant cells form in the bones or soft tissues of the body.
Soft tissue sarcomas form in cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, tendons, nerves, and around joints. Osteosarcomas develop in bone; liposarcomas form in fat; rhabdomyosarcomas form in muscle; and Ewing sarcomas form in bone and soft tissue.
Bone and joint cancer is most frequently diagnosed among teenagers, while soft tissue cancers typically affect those 55 years or older.
In 2019, over 12,750 cases of soft tissue sarcoma and 3,500 cases of bone sarcoma are expected to be diagnosed in the United States, according to data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER). Approximately 5,270 and 1,660 people are expected to die from soft tissue and bone sarcomas, respectively. The five-year survival rate for soft tissue sarcomas is 64 percent, while the survival rate is 66 percent for bone sarcomas.
Because sarcomas are difficult to distinguish from other cancers when they are found within organs, their incidence is probably underestimated, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Having certain inherited disorders can increase the risk for soft tissue sarcomas, including retinoblastoma, tuberous sclerosis, Werner syndrome, and nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome. Other risk factors for soft tissue sarcomas include past treatment with radiation therapy for certain cancers; exposure to certain chemicals, such as thorium dioxide, vinyl chloride, or arsenic; and long-term lymphedema in the arms or legs.
Past treatment with radiation can increase the risk of osteosarcoma and other types of bone cancers. Other risk factors for osteosarcoma include treatment with anticancer drugs called alkylating agents, having a certain change in the retinoblastoma gene, and having certain conditions including Paget disease, Diamond-Blackfan anemia, and Werner syndrome.
In 2017, the AACR hosted a special conference, Advances in Sarcomas: From Basic Science to Clinical Translation, which covered cutting-edge topics on the basic biology of sarcomas and soft-tissue tumors and how these may be translated to the clinic. Recognized experts in the field spoke on the topics of genomics, epigenetics, novel sarcoma models, immunotherapy, sarcoma biology, and targeted therapeutics. The AACR is currently planning future conferences on this topic.
In 2019, John A. Ligon, MD, a clinical fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was awarded an AACR Minority Scholar in Cancer Research Award for his sarcoma-focused study, “The immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment of metastatic osteosarcoma inhibits the cytotoxic effect of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes.”