The Sarcoma Unit of the IOB attends to patients diagnosed with tumors that affect the connective tissue, which include bones and the soft parts of the body such as muscles, cartilage, fat and the tissues of the blood vessels and nervous system.
Patients who come into this unit may have been previously diagnosed at another medical center, or they may be people who suspect they may have a sarcoma and require a first diagnosis.
Just like the other units of IOB, the Sarcoma Unit offers a service of second opinions for patients treated by oncologists at other centers.
Patients treated in the Sarcoma Unit are attended to by a multidisciplinary team made up of oncologists, surgeons, radiotherapists, anatomical pathologists, specialists in imaging diagnostics and nursing staff specialized in cancer.
This multidisciplinary team makes it easier for patients to be able to undergo all the tests and receive all the treatments that they need in a coordinated manner in the same location and in the shortest amount of time, without the need to travel to different centers and separately manage visits to different specialists.
The earlier a sarcoma is detected the greater the probability of being able to achieve a successful treatment and minimum long-term sequelae.
The appearance of a mass measuring more than five centimeters in diameters in the limbs or on the trunk of the body is the most characteristic symptom that can lead to the suspicion of a soft tissue sarcoma, and though it may not cause discomfort, it does require a consultation with a specialist in this type of tumor.
The fact that most of these masses are painless mistakenly leads to a high percentage of patients who do not pay significant attention to them and thereby delay the diagnosis.
Even in the case that someone detects a mass that is less than five centimeters, they should also visit a specialist if they have noticed its growth over a period of just a few months or if it is located deep within the tissue, such as in a leg.
This recommendation is justified because it is in these deep zones that most soft tissue sarcomas are located and where it is most difficult to precisely determine their diameter.
Bone sarcomas are less frequent. The first sign of alarm that would require a specialist consultation is often pain in the bone from an unknown cause.
The diagnosis is based on an MRI exam to evaluate the size, shape and location of a possible sarcoma and in a biopsy to obtain cells that will allow a precise diagnosis.
The analysis of those cells in the anatomical pathology laboratory indicates the type of sarcoma and together with the size of the tumor at the time of diagnosis, enables us to prognosticate whether it is a more or less aggressive cancer and decide the most appropriate treatment.
For some patients, the diagnostic tests also include a chest CT to check whether the cancer has spread to the lungs.
IOB’s quick diagnostic circuit has allowed us to reduce the timeframe to less than one week for the average time between the first consultation of a patient with a suspected sarcoma and the start of treatment.
The treatment of sarcoma is based on the surgical removal of the tumor.
The surgery must remove all of the tumor, as well as a thin layer of cells that surrounded the tumor.
Given that this type of surgery may end up mutilating the patient, especially in cases of larger sarcomas, it is fundamental to wait for the results of all the diagnostic testing prior to performing the operation. That way which cells must be removed and which can be preserved can be established with great precision.
Surgery is sometimes combined with six to eight weeks of radiotherapy treatment that reduces the size of the tumor and allows a less aggressive surgical intervention.
For high-risk patients, adjuvant chemotherapy is also administered with the aim of preventing the later development of metastasis.
In cases where the sarcoma has already spread to the lungs at the moment of the diagnosis, chemotherapy is administered. Five months of chemotherapy is also employed in sarcomas that, despite being localized, are considered high risk, and therefore the chemotherapy is administered to reduce the risk of it spreading to other organs.
IOB is a pioneer in the introduction of personalized genetic analysis to identify patients that may benefit from new generations of drugs that selectively attack some specific tumors based on their molecular characteristics.
Once the treatment has been completed, the follow-up for the first two years consists of physical examinations and blood tests every three months to verify that the sarcoma does not reappear, as well as chest X-rays every three months to check whether it has spread to the lungs, and a yearly MRI of the affected area.
From the third year on, once the risk of relapse has dropped, the check-ups are only every six months.
Given that in exceptional cases sarcomas can reappear in the long term, follow-ups should remain in place for ten years.
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