Health Report: Fairbanks Physicians Discuss Sarcoma Awareness
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - July is sarcoma awareness month, the very rare yet surprisingly diverse form of cancer.
According to Doctors Jacqueline and Andrew Cox, Medical Oncologists for Fairbanks Cancer Care Physicians, sarcomas are fundamentally different than other forms of cancer. Andrew Cox explained, “Most solid tumors are carcinomas, and carcinomas come from epithelial cells which line organs. So examples are breast cancer, colon cancer, stomach cancer, prostate cancer. Sarcomas, rather, come from what are called mesenchymal cells, and those are the connective tissues cells like muscle, bone, tendon. Carcinomas account for the vast majorities of cancers, whereas sarcomas count for one percent or less of all malignancies. So as a category, sarcomas are not very common. What’s interesting is that in that one percent, there are no less than 70 to 75 different types of sarcomas. It’s really a category of malignancy that’s rare and also very diverse as well.”
The extremely rare form of cancer can be found in certain age groups but total numbers of those affected are very small.
“It accounts for less than one percent of adult malignancies. So for instance there’s about 12,000 cases of soft tissue sarcomas per year, and about 3,000 cases of bone sarcomas or osteosarcomas per year. So it is quite rare. And there is this misconception that it’s this disease of young adults. And it is true that osteosarcoma, so the actual cancer of the bone cells, has a bimodal peak. It happens in young adolescence and then we can also see it in adults over 60. The soft tissue sarcomas are seen more in elderly folks, so over 60 or 70 years old,” remarked Jacqueline Cox.
And sarcomas can present themselves in a variety of ways depending on where they manifest.
“Sarcomas can present in a variety of different ways. Sometimes for example, if a sarcomas in an extremity, an arm or a leg, you may have swelling there, you may have discomfort. Sometimes it can actually present as a fracture. And then sometimes it can be in the abdomen as well and so you might have abdominal discomfort or there again it can present in a variety of ways. I think one of the most important things as physicians when we suspect a sarcoma is, in contrast to other malignancies, we have to be very careful how we biopsy the sarcoma. And in fact sarcomas are a group of diseases that the specialists that treat sarcomas at universities really prefer that the whole work up be done at those very specialized centers,” said Andrew Cox.
And according to Doctors Jacqueline and Andrew Cox, they will collaborate with other facilities for some sarcoma patients. Andrew Cox elaborated, “So when we suspect a sarcoma, you know oftentimes it’s not possible to leave Fairbanks. However, we might send pictures to colleagues at places like University of Washington or Swedish Medical Center and say ‘Hey, what do you think? How should we approach this here?’ if it’s not convenient or possible for a patient to get on a plane.”
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