July is Sarcoma Awareness Month.

Sarcomas are uncommon cancers that can affect any part of the body, on the inside or outside, including the muscle, bone, tendons, blood vessels and fatty tissues.

Fifteen people are diagnosed with sarcoma every day in the UK. That’s about 5,300 people a year. The typical symptom is a lump that gets bigger quickly. Other symptoms include:

  • Swelling, tenderness or pain which may come and go and may be worse at night
  • Stomach pain, feeling sick, loss of appetite or feeling full after eating only a small amount of food
  • Blood in either your poo or vomit

These symptoms do not necessarily mean you have cancer, but it is better to get checked by your GP sooner rather than later.

There are around 100 different sub-types of sarcoma.

Sarcomas commonly affect the arms, legs and trunk. They also appear in the stomach and intestines as well as behind the abdomen (retroperitoneal sarcomas) and the female reproductive system (gynaecological sarcomas).

Bone sarcomas affect about 611 people in the UK each year - 1 in 9 sarcoma diagnoses are bone sarcoma. Not all bone cancers will be sarcomas.

Soft tissue sarcomas  are the most common type of sarcoma, around 88% of sarcomas are a type of soft tissue sarcoma.

They can affect any part of the body; they develop in supporting or connective tissue such as the muscle, nerves, fatty tissue, and blood vessels. Soft tissue sarcomas include:

GIST is a common type of soft tissue sarcoma; it develops in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, a long tube running through the body from the oesophagus (gullet) to the anus (back passage) and includes the stomach and intestines.

Gynaecological sarcomas (sometimes shortened to gynae sarcomas) occur in the female reproductive system: the uterus (womb), ovaries, vagina, vulva and fallopian tubes. You may also hear the term uterine sarcoma. They can affect women of any age.

Retroperitoneal sarcomas occur in the retroperitoneum. This is an area behind the peritoneum, the lining of the abdominal space that covers the abdominal organs. The retroperitoneum is deep in the abdomen and pelvis, behind the abdominal lining, where organs such as the major blood vessels, kidneys, pancreas and bladder are located.

More research needs to be done to fully understand how these cancers develop and spread and how best to diagnose and treat them. People can survive sarcoma if their cancer is diagnosed early, when treatments can be effective and before the sarcoma has spread to other parts of the body. It is vital that patients be referred to a specialist sarcoma team as early as possible. 

Sarcoma facts and figures

  • Sarcoma is more common than previously thought. In 2016 there were 5,240 people diagnosed with sarcoma cancer in the UK.
  • There are three main types of sarcoma: soft tissue sarcomabone sarcoma and gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GIST)
  • Sarcoma diagnoses now make up about 1.4% of all cancer diagnoses in the UK.
  • In 2016, there were 611 cases of bone sarcoma diagnosed in the UK.
  • 88% sarcomas diagnosed in the UK are soft tissue sarcomas.
  • The majority (87%) of sarcoma cases are diganosed in England.
  • The majority of people are diagnosed when their sarcoma is about the size of a large tin of baked beans (10cm).​
  • Sarcoma survival rates have been very gradually increasing over the last two decades in the UK. 
  • Almost eight in 10 people (78%) diagnosed with sarcoma in the UK will live up to a year.
  • The average percentage of people living three years after being diagnosed with sarcoma in the UK is 64.5%. 
  • The five-year survival rate for sarcoma is 55%.​

If you have any concerns please contact your GP. More information is available at sarcoma.org.uk/about-sarcoma