What Kind of Cancer is Sarcoma?
- A mother of two from Ireland noticed a spot on her temple when taking a selfie with her newborn baby, and the spot turned out to be Ewing’s sarcoma.
- Ewing’s sarcoma is a type of sarcoma cancer that typically occurs in and around the bones, often in the arms or legs, or the bones of the pelvis.
- Sarcomas are cancers that arise from the cells that hold the body together. They can occur in muscles, nerves, bones, fat, tendons, cartilage or other forms of connective tissues.
“I didn’t really have any pain. I had some headaches and we thought it was an effect from an epidural because my baby (Max) was only a couple of weeks old,” Donna Marie Cullen told DublinLive.Read More
“We went for an ultrasound and the doctors were just baffled. It was a random tumor in my temple region. It was really bizarre.”
The discovery of Donna’s “random tumor” set off a battery of tests and procedures to figure out what was wrong. Eleven long months would pass before Donna and her family finally got an answer: In September 2020, she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of sarcoma cancer that typically occurs in and around the bones, often in the arms or legs, or the bones of the pelvis.
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“Everyone was floored,” she said. “They did not expect it to be cancer.”
“We were devastated,” she added. “Max had just turned one, I was homeschooling (her other 11-year-old son) Sean because of Covid. We were in a lovely little bubble to be honest; we were all at home enjoying the baby bubble.”
Once Donna received her sarcoma cancer diagnosis, “it moved very fast,” she said. The day after her diagnosis, she met with an oncology team and started chemotherapy.
While Donna was away from her family during chemo, which was hard, finding a surgeon to remove her tumor proved to be far more difficult.
“We struggled to find a surgeon to remove my tumor and we knew it had to be removed, but it was very complex as to where it was,” she explained. “It was touching my eye, close to my cheekbone, close to my ear. It was against my skull, it was touching the surface of my skin, so my oncologist had to reach out globally and surgeons were unwilling to take it on the surgery to remove it.”
“Eventually a surgeon from Beaumont (Ireland) came forward and consulted with a North American team,” she continued. “I had the surgery in February and it was eight hours, there was a vast team of surgeons.”
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“I was so lucky to have the top surgeons because it was so complex,” she added. “They had to remove part of my head, they couldn’t pull the skin back together so they had to take a part of my wrist away to replace it.”
“There was talk of taking one of my ribs to replace my cheekbone but they were able to shave it down in the end. I’ve screws and plates in my head at the moment.”
Within three weeks, once the surgery was complete, Donna was back in the chemo chair. She also had 30 sessions of radiation over the span of six weeks.
“I think when you hear the word cancer, it brings a barrel of devastation, but we stayed positive and stayed focused,” she said.
What Kind of Cancer is Sarcoma?
Sarcomas are cancers that arise from the cells that hold the body together. They can occur in muscles, nerves, bones, fat, tendons, cartilage or other forms of connective tissues.
“There are hundreds of different kinds of sarcomas, which come from different kinds of cells,” Dr. George Demetri, director of the Sarcoma and Bone Oncology Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, previously told SurvivorNet.
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The word sarcoma refers to a large array of bone and soft tissue cancers. Those are then further broken down into more specific forms of the disease, including:
- Ewing’s sarcoma — Cancer that typically occurs in and around the bones, often in the arms or legs, or the bones of the pelvis. It most commonly occurs in children and young adults. (This is the type of sarcoma Donna was diagnosed with.)
- Kaposi sarcoma — Rare type of cancer that causes lesions on the skin, in lymph nodes, organs and the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, and throat. It typically affects people with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV.
- Epithelioid sarcoma — Soft tissue cancer that grows slowly. It’s likely to begin under the skin of areas like the finger, hand, forearm, lower part of the leg or foot.
- Synovial sarcoma — Known also as a malignant synovioma, this is a cancer that can form soft tissues such as muscle or ligaments, commonly close to joints or in areas like the arm, leg or foot.
- Osteogenic sarcoma — Known also as osteosarcoma, this cancer forms in the bone and is most common in young children.
- Spindle cell sarcoma — Rare form of the disease that accounts for less than 2% of all primary bone cancer cases. It’s most common in adults over age 40 and often forms in the bones of the arms, legs and pelvis.
- Angiosarcoma — This cancer appears in the lining of the blood vessels.
- Liposarcoma — This cancer develops from fat cells and often occurs in the torso, limbs or deep within the abdominal lining.
- Chondrosarcoma — This cancer occurs in the cells of the cartilage, mostly in adults over the age of 40.
“Unfortunately, most sarcomas don’t cause many of the symptoms that may be associated with other cancers,” Dr. Dale Shepard, director of the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute Phase I and Sarcoma Programs, previously told SurvivorNet. Shepard also explained that this often leads to large tumors at the time of diagnosis.
“Soft tissue sarcomas are typically painless,” he added. “Bone sarcomas may be mistaken for orthopedic injuries. A mass the size of a golf ball or larger and growing should be evaluated as a potential sarcoma. It’s important that patients who do have symptoms are not dismissive of them.”