What is Sarcoma of the Head and Neck?

Sarcoma of the head and neck is a type of cancer that begins in the connective tissues of the body, such as, bone (osteosarcoma), cartilage, (chondrosarcoma), skeletal muscle (rhabdomyosarcoma), smooth muscle (leiomyosarcomas), blood vessels (angiosarcoma), fat (liposarcoma) and neuroendocrine cells (Ewing sarcoma). Sarcomas of the head and neck are very rare, making up less than one percent of all head and neck cancers, and less than five percent of all sarcomas of the body. Approximately 80 percent of head and neck cancers occur in adults.

Types of Sarcoma of the Head and Neck

Types of sarcomas of the head and neck include:

Symptoms of Sarcoma of the Head and Neck

The most common symptoms of a sarcoma of the head and neck are:

  • A painless lump
  • Facial or neck mass
  • Hoarseness
  • Unilateral nasal obstruction
  • Nasal mass
  • Nose bleed (epistaxis)
  • Change in voice
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty or painful swallowing

Causes of Sarcoma of the Head and Neck

It is not yet fully understood what causes sarcomas, although 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. Some individuals who have been exposed to vinyl chloride at their job (a substance used to manufacture certain plastics) have a higher risk of developing angiosarcoma, a rare blood vessel tumor of the liver.

The latest studies have shown that genetic mutations (changes in the DNA) may lead to the development of sarcomas. Researchers have found that a small percentage of families in which more than one member of the family have sarcoma, may have a rare inherited genetic mutation that leads to the development of the disease.