Sarcomas are given a number of different names based on the type of tissue that they most closely resemble. For example, osteosarcoma resembles bone, chondrosarcoma resembles cartilage, liposarcoma resembles fat, and leiomyosarcoma resembles smooth muscle. Grade
In addition to being named based on the tissue of origin, sarcomas are also assigned a grade (low, intermediate, or high) based on the presence and frequency of certain cellular and subcellular characteristics associated with malignant biological behavior. Low grade sarcomas are usually treated surgically, although sometimes radiation therapy or chemotherapy are used. Intermediate and high grade sarcomas are more frequently treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Since higher grade tumors are more likely to undergo metastasis (invasion and spread to locoregional and distant sites), they are treated more aggressively. The recognition that many sarcomas are sensitive to chemotherapy has dramatically improved the survival of patients. For example, in the era before chemotherapy, long term survival for patients with localized osteosarcoma was only approximately 20%, but now has risen to 60–70%.
Surgery is important in the treatment of most sarcomas. Limb sparing surgery, as opposed to amputation, can now be used to save the limbs of patients in at least 90% of extremity tumor cases. Additional treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy, may be administered before and/or after surgery. Chemotherapy significantly improves the prognosis for many sarcoma patients, especially those with bone sarcomas. Treatment can be a long and arduous process, lasting about a year for many patients.
Liposarcoma treatment consists of surgical resection, with chemotherapy not being used outside of the investigative setting. Adjuvant radiotherapy may also be used after surgical excision for liposarcoma. Rhabdomyosarcoma is treated with surgery, radiotherapy, and/or chemotherapy. The majority of rhabdomyosarcoma patients have between a 50–85% survival rate. Osteosarcoma is treated with surgical resection of as much of the cancer as possible, often along with neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Radiotherapy is a second alternative although not as successful.
Sarcomas are quite rare with only 15,000 new cases per year in the United States. Sarcomas therefore represent about one percent of the 1.5 million new cancer diagnoses in that country each year.
Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) is the most common form of sarcoma, with approximately 3,000–3,500 cases per year in the United States.
Sarcomas affect people of all ages. Some sarcomas, such as leiomyosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, and gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), are more common in adults than in children. Most high-grade bone sarcomas, including Ewing's sarcoma and osteosarcoma, are much more common in children and young adults.