The Sarcoma Program
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What Causes Sarcoma?

Scientists do not yet fully understand what causes sarcomas. Some studies suggest that workers who are exposed to phenoxyacetic acid in herbicides and chlorophenols in wood preservatives may have an increased risk of developing soft tissue sarcomas.

An unusual percentage of patients with a rare blood vessel tumor of the liver called angiosarcoma have been exposed to vinyl chloride in their work. This substance is used in the manufacture of certain plastics.

Recent studies have focused on genetic mutations (changes in the DNA) that may lead to the development of sarcomas. Scientists have found a small number of families in which more than one member of the family has developed sarcoma. In these families, it is possible that sarcoma is related to a rare inherited genetic mutation.

Certain inherited diseases are associated with an increased risk of developing bone and soft tissue sarcomas. Those at increased risk include:

  • Individuals with Li-Fraumeni syndrome, which is associated with alterations in the p53 gene.
  • Individuals with von Recklinghausen's disease, also called neurofibromatosis, and associated with alterations in the NF1 gene.
  • Individuals with Paget's disease, a non-cancerous condition characterized by abnormal development of new bone cells.
  • Individuals with hereditary retinoblastoma, which is an uncommon cancer of the eye, that typically develops in childhood.

Your doctor or nurse may ask you if you are interested in participating in current genetic research focused on improving treatment, finding the cause and hopefully preventing sarcomas. We encourage you to ask questions so you'll have the information you need to make the decision that's best for you.


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