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Cancer Snapshots: Disease Focused and Other Snapshots

  • Posted: 12/02/2013

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A Snapshot of Sarcoma

Incidence and Mortality

Sarcomas are a diverse and relatively rare group of malignant tumors that develop in soft tissue and bone. Soft tissue sarcomas form in fat, muscle, fibrous tissue, blood vessels, and other supporting tissue of the body; osteosarcomas develop in bone; and Ewing sarcomas (EWS) form in bone and soft tissue. Sarcomas can be difficult to distinguish from other malignancies when they are found within organs; thus, their incidence is probably underestimated. Because sarcomas are more common in adolescents and young adults than most other cancers, the number of years of life lost to sarcomas is substantial, despite their relatively low incidence. In 2013, it is estimated that approximately 11,400 Americans will be diagnosed with soft tissue sarcomas and 3,000 with bone sarcomas; approximately 4,400 and 1,440 people are expected to die from soft tissue and bone sarcomas, respectively.

Soft tissue1 and bone sarcoma incidence rates have increased slightly over the past 35 years. Soft tissue sarcomas are more common than bone sarcomas. Several subtypes of soft tissue and bone sarcoma exist, but the exact number of Americans with each sarcoma subtype is unknown. The 5-year relative survival rate for bone and soft tissue sarcoma is approximately 66 percent.

Certain inherited disorders and past treatment with radiation therapy can increase the risk of soft tissue and bone sarcoma. No modifiable risk factors for sarcoma have been identified. Standard treatments for soft tissue sarcoma include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. In addition to those treatments, patients with bone sarcoma and uterine sarcoma may receive samarium and hormone therapy, respectively.

Line graphs showing U.S. bone sarcoma and soft tissue sarcoma Incidence by Age (less than 20 years old compared to greater than or equal to 20 years old) between 1990-2010.  Bone sarcoma Incidence is approximately the same for both age groups. Soft tissue sarcoma incidence is higher in people above age 20 compared to those below.

Examples of NCI Activities Relevant to Sarcoma

Selected Advances in Sarcoma Research

Pie chart of NCI Sarcoma Research Portfolio.  Percentage of total dollars by scientific area.  Fiscal year 2012.  Biology, 30%.  Etiology/causes of cancer, 9%.  Prevention, 1%.  Early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, 13%.  Treatment, 38%.  Cancer control, survivorship, and outcomes research, 3%.  Scientific model systems, 6%.
  • In a randomized clinical trial, adjuvant chemotherapy consisting of doxorubicin and ifosfamide provided no survival benefit for patients with resected soft tissue sarcoma. Published September 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
  • A retrospective cohort study showed that patients diagnosed with EWS at age 40 and over are more likely to have extraskeletal tumors, metastatic disease, primary tumors at sites other than the arms and legs, and lower survival rates than younger EWS patients, suggesting a fundamental difference in tumor biology. Published September 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
  • The results of preclinical studies suggest that a noninvasive positron emission tomography scan may help identify patients with liposarcoma who are likely to respond to gemcitabine treatment. Published December 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
  • In a phase II trial, 84 percent of patients with advanced alveolar soft part sarcoma experienced a partial response or stable disease when treated with the experimental angiogenesis inhibitor cediranib. Published April 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • See this PubMed list of selected free full-text journal articles on NCI-supported research relevant to sarcoma. You can also search PubMed for additional scientific articles or to complete a search tutorial.

Trends in NCI Funding for Sarcoma Research

The National Cancer Institute's (NCI) investment2 in soft tissue and bone sarcoma research increased from $34.3 million in fiscal year (FY) 2008 to $41.0 million in FY 2011 before decreasing to $38.9 million in FY 2012. In addition to this funding, NCI supported $22.6 million in sarcoma research in FY 2009 and 2010 using funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Bar graph of NCI Soft Tissue Sarcoma/Bone Sarcoma Research Investment in 2008-2012: Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 $34.3 million Sarcoma Funding of $4.83 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2009 $40.5 million Sarcoma Funding of $4.97 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2010, $37.1 million Sarcoma Funding of $5.10 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2011, $41.0 million Sarcoma Funding of $5.06 billion Total NCI Budget.  FY 2012, $38.9 million Sarcoma Funding of $5.07 billion Total NCI Budget.

Additional Resources for Sarcoma


  • 1 Does not include Kaposi sarcoma, which is addressed in a separate Snapshot.
  • 2 The estimated NCI investment is based on funding associated with a broad range of peer-reviewed scientific activities. For additional information on research planning and budgeting at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), see About NIH.