What’s the Difference Between a Sarcoma and Carcinoma?

In the simplest of definitions, cancer is the division and growth of abnormal cells. Where it gets complicated is that most any cell in the human body has the potential to become cancerous, but this development happens more often in certain cells than others.

At Ortho Engineering, we believe that patient education is key, which is why we’ve pulled together the following information on two of the most common cancer groups — sarcomas and carcinomas. And the difference between the two comes down to which cells are affected.

Here’s a look at the difference between sarcoma and carcinoma.

A division of cell groups

To get right to the question posed in the title of this blog, the difference between carcinoma and sarcoma is this — carcinomas are cancers that affect your epithelial cells and sarcomas affect your mesenchymal cells.

Your epithelial cells are exterior or surface cells that cover your entire body as well as the surfaces of your internal organs. These cells come together to form barriers or coverings, relying on their special adhesive nature.

Your mesenchymal cells are those that make up your soft tissues, including those found in your:

Most cancers are classified as carcinomas or sarcomas, but there are three other types of cancers, which include lymphomas, leukemias, and myelomas.

Sarcomas and carcinomas by the numbers

The incidence of carcinomas versus sarcomas is fairly disparate. For example, less than 13,000 soft tissue sarcomas will be diagnosed in 2019 in the United States, while 90% of all diagnosed cancers in the US involve a carcinoma. Conversely, less than 1% of cancer diagnoses involve a sarcoma.

Treating sarcomas and carcinomas

One of the first treatments for anyone with cancer — whether it’s a sarcoma or carcinoma — is to try and excise the cancerous tissue to keep the cancer from spreading. From there, courses of chemotherapy and/or radiation are often used to ensure that the cancer is gone.

Unfortunately, for those with sarcomas, this approach typically means removing the affected soft tissue and bone, creating an orthopedic problem.

Many sarcomas develop in the limbs — in people of all ages, including children. In these cases, the default treatment used to be amputation in order to fully eradicate the disease. The decision to amputate was also made because the removal of so much tissue often meant that the limb wouldn’t be very functional afterward.

With new surgical techniques, including limb-sparing surgery, doctors aren’t so quick to amputate, though it is still required in some cases.

If you or a loved one is facing amputation or diminished orthopedic function, we’re here to help. At Ortho Engineering, we provide state-of-the-art prosthetics and orthotics that can help you move forward in your cancer-free life. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our nine offices in the greater Los Angeles area. 

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