Sarcoma is a rare cancerous tumor that occurs in connective tissues - fat, nerve, muscle, bone – impacting anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 patients a year in the United States, which is just 1% of all cancers reported annually. The rare nature of these tumors underscores the need for unique expertise and experience for successful treatment.

Published Aug 5th, 2019

By Lindsay Mott
lmott@health.southalabama.edu

Sarcoma is a rare cancerous tumor that occurs in connective tissues - fat, nerve, muscle, bone – impacting anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 patients a year in the United States, which is just 1% of all cancers reported annually. The rare nature of these tumors underscores the need for unique expertise and experience for successful treatment.

There are about 50 different types of sarcomas, and they fall on a spectrum with slow growing and easy to treat at one end to aggressive and more difficult to treat on the other. Sarcomas can also grow to the size of a basketball or watermelon that are mainly found in the abdomen.

Sarcomas require a multidisciplinary approach with a high level of expertise and experience to treat them successfully because they vary so much and are so rare. At USA Health, our surgical oncology team - J. Harrison Howard, M.D., Spencer Liles, M.D., and Annabelle Fonseca, M.D. - provides just that.

“It has been demonstrated time and time again that people do better when they are treated by physicians that have extensive experience with this disease,” said Howard, who is fellowship-trained in treating sarcomas.

The treatment types for these tumors also varies: sometimes it’s just surgery, sometimes it’s radiation and surgery, and sometimes it’s chemo and radiation up front followed by surgery.

“There’s a huge spectrum in how the tumors behave, and that's why it’s important to have a physician with extensive training and experience treat these,” Howard said, adding that sometimes treatments performed by inexperienced providers can make things worse rather than better for the patient.

As an academic physician who is on faculty at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, Howard says he has the opportunity to teach residents and medical students about sarcoma and the importance of treatments that involve an experienced, multidisciplinary team.

For patients, Howard said that sarcomas can be hard to pinpoint but it’s important to look for lumps and growths that are deep in the muscle or tissue. Also, if a person’s belly is growing at fast rate, he recommends talking with your primary care physician.

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