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Synovial Sarcoma

What is synovial sarcoma?

Synovial sarcoma is a cancer that can come from different types of soft tissue, such as muscle or ligaments. It is often found in the arm, leg, or foot, and near joints such as the wrist or ankle. It can also form in soft tissues in the lung or abdomen. Synovial sarcoma may also be called malignant synovioma.

One third of patients with synovial sarcoma will be diagnosed under the age of 30. It is somewhat more common in males.

How common is synovial sarcoma?

Synovial sarcoma accounts for 5% to 10% of soft-tissue tumors. For every one million people, one to two are diagnosed with synovial sarcoma per year in the US.

How is synovial sarcoma diagnosed?

The symptoms caused by synovial sarcoma depend on where the tumor forms. Synovial sarcoma is often first noticed as a painless lump. If it is near a nerve, it might cause pain or numbness as it grows.

Imaging: If you have symptoms of synovial sarcoma, your doctor will use scans such as X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI to take pictures of the tumor.

Biopsy: Your doctor will perform a biopsy, taking a small sample of the tumor with a needle. A pathologist will study cells from the sample under the microscope to see what kind of tumor it is.

How is synovial sarcoma treated?

Treatment for synovial sarcoma depends on whether it has spread. Given that synovial sarcoma can grow for a while before it is found, there is a greater chance that it will spread to other parts of the body.

Surgery: Surgery is the first choice of treatment for synovial sarcomas. When all of the tumor is removed and there is no sign of cancer anywhere else in the body, there is a better chance of survival. Success of the surgery depends on the size of the tumor and its location in the body.

Radiation therapy: Sometimes radiation therapy is used before or after surgery to kill cancer cells.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy may be used when synovial sarcoma cannot be completely removed by surgery or when it has spread. You should discuss the benefits and risks of chemotherapy with your doctors.

Does synovial sarcoma run in families?

No, synovial sarcoma does not run in families.

How does synovial sarcoma form?

Scientists are always working to understand how cancer forms, but it can be hard to prove. We know that in synovial sarcoma, chromosomes (the structures in your cells that contain all of your genes) break apart and get put back together in the wrong way. This can cause cells to not function like they should. In synovial sarcoma, a gene called SYT is joined to SSX genes. Doctors will look for this change in chromosomes to confirm that it is synovial sarcoma.

What is the prognosis for someone with synovial sarcoma?

The estimate of how a disease will affect you long-term is called prognosis. Every person is different, and prognosis will depend on many factors, such as:

  • Where the tumor is in your body
  • If the cancer has spread to other parts of your body
  • How much of the tumor was taken out during surgery

If you want information on your prognosis, it is important to talk to your doctor. NCI also has resources to help you understand cancer prognosis.

Doctors estimate synovial sarcoma survival rates by how groups of people with synovial sarcoma have done in the past. Given that there are so few synovial sarcoma patients, survival rates may not be very accurate. They also don’t consider newer treatments being developed. We know that anywhere from 36% to 76% of people with synovial sarcoma will be alive five years after their first diagnosis. Chances of survival are better if the tumor is completely removed and does not return or spread.