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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

The Epidemiology of Sarcoma

Zachary Burningham1, Mia Hashibe1, Logan Spector2 and Joshua D Schiffman3*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Family And Preventive Medicine, University of Utah, 2000 Circle of Hope, HCI-4245, Salt Lake City, UT, 84112, USA

2 Division of Epidemiology/Clinical Research, Department of Pediatrics and Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA

3 Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, Center for Children's Cancer Research, Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA

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Clinical Sarcoma Research 2012, 2:14  doi:10.1186/2045-3329-2-14

Published: 4 October 2012

Abstract

Sarcomas account for over 20% of all pediatric solid malignant cancers and less than 1% of all adult solid malignant cancers. The vast majority of diagnosed sarcomas will be soft tissue sarcomas, while malignant bone tumors make up just over 10% of sarcomas. The risks for sarcoma are not well-understood. We evaluated the existing literature on the epidemiology and etiology of sarcoma. Risks for sarcoma development can be divided into environmental exposures, genetic susceptibility, and an interaction between the two. HIV-positive individuals are at an increased risk for Kaposi’s sarcoma, even though HHV8 is the causative virus. Radiation exposure from radiotherapy has been strongly associated with secondary sarcoma development in certain cancer patients. In fact, the risk of malignant bone tumors increases as the cumulative dose of radiation to the bone increases (p for trend <0.001). A recent meta-analysis reported that children with a history of hernias have a greater risk of developing Ewing’s sarcoma (adjusted OR 3.2, 95% CI 1.9, 5.7). Bone development during pubertal growth spurts has been associated with osteosarcoma development. Occupational factors such as job type, industry, and exposures to chemicals such as herbicides and chlorophenols have been suggested as risk factors for sarcomas. A case-control study found a significant increase in soft tissue sarcoma risk among gardeners (adjusted OR 4.1, 95% CI 1.00, 14.00), but not among those strictly involved in farming. A European-based study reported an increased risk in bone tumors among blacksmiths, toolmakers, or machine-tool operators (adjusted OR 2.14, 95% CI 1.08, 4.26). Maternal and paternal characteristics such as occupation, age, smoking status, and health conditions experienced during pregnancy also have been suggested as sarcoma risk factors and would be important to assess in future studies. The limited studies we identified demonstrate significant relationships with sarcoma risk, but many of these results now require further validation on larger populations. Furthermore, little is known about the biologic mechanisms behind each epidemiologic association assessed in the literature. Future molecular epidemiology studies may increase our understanding of the genetic versus environmental contributions to tumorigenesis in this often deadly cancer in children and adults.