What is Sarcoma? | Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

http://youtu.be/J35GBjTxzIE George Demetri, M.D., Director of the Center for Sarcoma and Bone Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, provides an easy-to-follow introduction to the complexities of sarcoma definition, research, and treatment. Learn more about sarcoma treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: http://www.dana-farber.org/Adult-Care/Treatment-and-Support/Soft-Tissue-Sarcoma.aspx Transcription: Many people ask, “What is sarcoma?” if someone in the family is stricken with the disease. Now first and foremost, sarcoma is not one disease—there are hundreds of different diseases that are grouped under the general term ‘sarcoma.’ Sarcoma refers to growth of cells whose normal function would be to hold the body together. These are called connective tissue cells, because they're connecting different parts of the body. And generally speaking, these include cells like muscle, bone, nerves, other things that don't really have a function in the body, other than to hold it together. Any one of these different kinds of cells—fat cells, muscle cells, different types of nerve or nerve-protecting cells, blood vessel cells—if they turn cancerous, that type of a cancer is known as a sarcoma. Now importantly, the different types of sarcomas have more complicated names. So, a muscle sarcoma could be either a rhabdomyosarcoma or a leiomyosarcoma. These polysyllabic nightmares are difficult for patients to understand. They’re very difficult for physicians to understand, unless they are sarcoma experts. And frankly, it’s been very confusing in the field of medical research, and part of what our team is trying to do with expert pathologists, like Chris Fletcher at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is to try to make these different sarcomas actually different diseases that we treat in different ways. The analogy is simple: if you get an infection, you try to figure out what bug is causing the infection, and then the doctors can treat that specific bug. It’s exactly the same with sarcomas. If a patient or a loved one gets a sarcoma, you want to be sure you're getting the exact right type of treatment for the exact right type of sarcoma. Part of what our team here is focused on is understanding all the different types of sarcomas in as much detail as we can, right down to the level of the DNA, because sometimes (as in the case with a sarcoma known as gastrointestinal stromal tumor or GIST), the DNA and the mutations of the DNA in the tumor can give us clues as to important new molecular treatments that may be developed to fight that type of sarcoma. When a patient or a family member is diagnosed with sarcoma, there are many decisions to be made very quickly. The national guidelines from the National Comprehensive Cancer Center Network strongly encourage patients to seek an expert opinion at a sarcoma center or a center there where the physicians will work as a team and have extensive experience in the management of patients with multiple types of sarcomas. The Dana-Farber Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, part of the Dana-Farber Harvard Cancer, has extensive experience in our hospitals, and we have an extensive team of multi-disciplinary specialists, including medical oncology, surgical oncology, orthopedic oncology, pathology, reconstructive surgery, and many, many other specialties that work together in a coordinated team to help provide the best care for patients, whether it be using standard and conventional measures that local physicians could also deliver, or whether it be in the cutting-edge new research studies that are available at our center. We encourage patients to use this expertise here, and we work closely with other centers worldwide, so that we can advance the care and the outcomes for patients with sarcoma, so they can be the best they can possibly be.