What is a sarcoma?


A sarcoma is a rare tumour that starts from a cell called a mesenchymal cell. Mesenchymal cells support other cells much like mortar supports bricks in a wall. Because supporting cells occur throughout the body, sarcoma can occur anywhere.


There are soft tissue sarcomas, which occur as lumps in muscle, and bone sarcomas, which are tumour that start within a bone.

Professor Peter Choong

Professor Choong

Read about Bone Sarcoma:

Read about Soft Tissue Sarcoma:

Another useful article written by Professor Choong on Tumours is available from Central Melbourne Orthopaedics – Please ask at reception for a copy:

Choong, P.F.M. and Sim, F.H., 2000. Tumours. Current Orthopaedics, 14(2), pp.117-132.


How common are sarcomas?

Sarcomas are rare. They occur in 1-2 people per 100,000 head of population. In comparison, breast cancer may occur in 1 in 10-15 women and prostate cancer may occur in 1 in 10 men. Therefore, sarcoma is almost 10,000 times less common that cancers like breast, prostate and lung.


Who gets sarcoma?

Sarcoma occurs in 2 main age groups. Young people such as teenagers and those in their 20’s may get sarcoma. Another older group of patients in their 40’s-60s can also get sarcoma.


Why do sarcoma occur?

Sarcoma is caused by an abnormality in the genes of a mesenchymal cell that allows the cell to multiply and grow in an uncontrolled way. Normally, the body’s cells grow and mature in direct response to signals from the body. Sarcoma cells don’t listen to the body’s instructions and continue to grow. This is why a lump appears. If the lump is not treated, it will continue to grow and will press on important organs and cause them to malfunction. The genetic abnormality occurs by accident and is mostly caused by cells that are growing old and cannot repair certain faults that they may have. If the fault occurs at a special point, which is important to control growth and this control is knocked out, then cells can become cancerous.


Can sarcoma be passed through a family?

There are certain genetic abnormalities that can be passed from one family to another and these can cause abnormalities in bone growth to become cancerous. This, however, is rare even in sarcoma. So the passing of one sarcoma gene to another member of the family while possible does not occur frequently.


Who should I goto for treatment of my sarcoma?

Sarcoma needs to be treated very carefully, and this should occur under a specialist who is an expert in sarcoma care. Although there are many medical and surgical specialists, not all are expert or familiar with sarcoma. Usually a surgeon is the first person you may see for your sarcoma care. It is important that you seek only the care of those who are experts in this area and this includes surgeons.

Today, a specialist SARCOMA TEAM treats sarcoma. They are often referred to as a multidisciplinary team (MDT). What this means is that each specialist within the team is an expert in an area that is important for you care and that all these areas are required to work together to give the best results from your treatment. Just because a specialist is prepared to treat a sarcoma does not make them a specialist in this area. Ask your specialist if they are expert in this area of treatment.


Why should I seek specialist care for my sarcoma?

It is very important that you get a sarcoma expert to treat your sarcoma. This is because you will require proper investigations, a safe and accurate biopsy and a comprehensive plan before you commence treatment. It is critical that all this occurs before you have any surgery. Surgery on a sarcoma that is performed without planning or without the correct diagnosis may lead to a higher risk of the tumour returning or the need to perform an amputation.