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Shedding Light on the Forgotten Cancer

Tue, 02/23/2021 - 08:00

image of lightbox with rare disease day written on it

New Brunswick, N.J. February 23, 2021 – Often dubbed the “forgotten cancer,” sarcoma is a rare kind of cancer that grows in bones, muscles, tendons, cartilage, and other connective tissue.

According to the American Cancer Society, sarcoma will impact just over 13,000 Americans this year. Although the disease is rare, accounting for about one percent of all adult cancers, sarcoma can touch the lives of people no matter what age and at any location on the body, which is why it is important to increase awareness and continue research efforts for this type of cancer.

Understanding Sarcoma

There are two broad categories for sarcoma. The first category is soft tissue sarcoma, which means that the cancer arises in the soft tissue elements of the extremity, such as muscles, fat, nerves and blood vessels. The second category is bone sarcoma, which are cancers that originate in the bone. These are further classified into more than 70 sarcoma subtypes. Subtypes of sarcoma are named based on the surrounding tissue, the affected area of the bone or the type of cells creating the tumor.

Challenges for Sarcoma Patients

Because sarcomas are rare and can take multiple forms in multiple locations, the disease is often more difficult to detect. In their early stages, soft tissue sarcomas rarely display any symptoms other than a painless lump. As the tumor grows, pain may occur depending on where the tumor is located, or if it presses on nearby nerves. With sarcoma of the bone, pain is the most common symptom. Treatments for sarcomas are dependent upon the subtype a patient has, and will vary widely depending on a variety of other factors such as tumor location and size, the patient’s age and if the tumor is new or recurrent.

Sarcomas Need Expert Care

With a rare and complex type of cancer such as sarcoma, it is important to seek the best possible care. The disease should be managed at a center that specializes in sarcoma care with all of the resources a patient might need. This includes a multidisciplinary team of specialists including surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, nurses and social workers.

Currently, Rutgers Cancer Institute experts in the Sarcoma Program are involved in various precision medicine initiatives for sarcomas focusing on personalized treatment for metastatic disease as well as early detection. Clinical trials for sarcomas are also currently being conducted, focusing on both targeted therapy and immunotherapy for treatment of the disease.

As a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rutgers Cancer Institute is the only such center in New Jersey that provides this level of care in partnership with RWJBarnabas Health.

Roman Groisberg, MD is a medical oncologist and director of the Sarcoma Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey with clinical expertise in melanoma, sarcoma, and clinical trials. 


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