Each year, 130 Connecticut residents develop sarcoma — cancer of musculoskeletal support tissues such as bone, cartilage, muscle and the blood vessels or nerves in connective tissues. Sarcomas, which generally account for about 1 percent of cancers, fall into two main categories: bone and soft tissue.
At Smilow Cancer Hospital, a team of highly trained specialists is devoted to the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with sarcoma. Advances — supported by groundbreaking research — in surgical techniques, medical oncology and chemotherapy, diagnostic imaging, radiation oncology and pathology allow this team to push the boundaries of success in treating patients.
Why Smilow Cancer Hospital for Sarcoma Treatment
While the majority of patients' lumps and bumps are diagnosed as benign tumors, when cancer is suspected, the sarcoma team at Smilow Cancer Hospital brings its expertise and creativity to bear on the individual patient because the correct diagnosis will drive how to best treat the patient.
Some of the diagnostic tools include basic X-ray; CT scanning, excellent at seeing both bone and soft tissues; MRI, which has the ability to "view" the tissue in and around bone with exquisite detail; and PET scanning that is able to look at biological activity at the cellular level. As the team closes in on diagnosis, they may also want a needle biopsy, performed as an outpatient with local anesthetic, or a surgical biopsy, performed under general anesthesia, to yield further important clues.
In the case of a sarcoma that has infiltrated the lower thigh, for example, the team assesses the best course of action. Research that has been done at Yale Cancer Center, one of only 45 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers in the United States, has dramatically improved the treatment for sarcoma. Forty years ago, for example, this patient might have first received surgery to remove a tumor — usually by amputation, possibly followed by a course of chemotherapy or radiation. The survival rate in those days was about 10-15 percent for two years.
Clinical research trials show that today's patient will probably benefit from a course of multi-drug chemotherapy and/or radiation first, followed by limb-sparing surgery, which removes the tumor without amputation, and more chemotherapy. A team well versed in a range of options—such as the one that patients find at Smilow Cancer Hospital--can knowledgeably share the decision-making with the patient. Today, the cure rate — not the survival rate — for sarcoma is around 80 percent.