The need for greater awareness of sarcoma: The lesser-known cancer

Image of doctor with sarcoma ribbon

 

According to Sarcoma UK, 15 people are diagnosed with sarcoma each day in the UK. Despite this, awareness of sarcoma is low in the UK, with approximately three quarters of people not knowing or being unsure of what sarcoma is. [1]

In the UK, July is Sarcoma Awareness Month. In support of this initiative and the doctors, patients and carers treating and living with sarcoma, Porterhouse Medical Group puts a spotlight on this disease and some recent developments in its treatment.

What is Sarcoma?

Sarcomas are cancers that derive from connective tissue cells. As such, they affect many parts of the body, including the arms, legs, trunk, stomach, intestines and abdomen. Generally, they are divided into two major groups: bone sarcomas and soft tissue sarcomas. Each of these groups have multiple subtypes, with around 100 different subtypes having been identified so far. Soft tissue sarcomas, such as GIST (gastrointestinal stromal tumours) and gynaecological tumours, are the most common type, accounting for over 80% of sarcomas. Approximately one in nine diagnoses of sarcoma are bone sarcoma. [1]

The importance of early diagnosis

The earlier a sarcoma is detected, the better the treatment outcome. According to Cancer Research UK (CRUK), 77% of men (in England) survive soft tissue sarcoma for at least one year, after which survival rates fall to 55% after five years and 46% after ten years. The survival rates in women are slightly lower than in men. [2]

The picture is somewhat better for bone sarcoma. For men and women combined, the one-, five- and ten-year survival rates are 83%, 62% and 55%, respectively. However, CRUK note that there have been no improvements in bone sarcoma survival rates in England for the past 25 years. [3]

While in the US, the American Cancer Society’s estimates for the diagnosis of soft -tissue sarcomas for 2021 are 13,460 (2,840 males and 2,510 females) with 5,350 deaths (2,840 males and 2,510 females). [4]

Treatment

Treatment options for sarcoma include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which are often used in combination. Research into the development of new therapeutic options for sarcoma is an active field, with trials of novel immunotherapies (such as checkpoint inhibitors) and targeted therapies under way at various locations around the world. [5]

One of the most recently approved therapies for GIST is ripretinib (approved by the FDA in May 2020), which has displayed statistically significant improvements in progression-free survival versus placebo. This novel ‘switch-pocket’ inhibitor has been described by some researchers as a ‘major breakthrough in sarcoma drug development’. [6]

More information and support

Both the Sarcoma Foundation of America (which sponsors Sarcoma Awareness Month) and Sarcoma UK are useful sources of information on the pathophysiology, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of sarcoma. Both organisations actively encourage those who are diagnosed with or are concerned about sarcoma to get involved in the sarcoma community via local and online support groups. There are also opportunities to fundraise and make donations. For more information, please visit sarcoma.org.uk and https://www.curesarcoma.org/.

 

References

  1. Sarcoma UK. Understanding sarcoma. Available at: https://sarcoma.org.uk/about-sarcoma/understanding-sarcoma-0. Accessed July 2021.
  2. Cancer Research UK. Soft tissue sarcoma survival statistics. Available at: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/soft-tissue-sarcoma/survival#heading-Zero. Accessed July 2021.
  3. Cancer Research UK. Bone sarcoma survival statistics. Available at: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/bone-sarcoma/survival. Accessed July 2021.
  4. American Cancer Society. Key statistics for soft tissue sarcomas. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/soft-tissue-sarcoma/about/key-statistics.html. Accessed July 2021.
  5. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Available at: clinicaltrials.gov. Accessed July 2021.
  6. Lostes-Bardaji MJ, García-Illescas D, Valverde C et al. Ripretinib in gastrointestinal stromal tumor: The long-awaited step forward. Ther Adv Med Oncol 2021; 13: 1758835920986498.