Ewing's sarcoma is an uncommon and aggressive type of cancer that originates in the bones or the surrounding soft tissues. Although the malignancy can occur at any age, it usually develops during puberty, when rapid bone growth occurs. For this reason, Ewing’s sarcoma predominantly affects children and young adults.
Researchers have discovered that Ewing’s sarcoma forms after mutations occur in a cell’s chromosomes. Specifically, in Ewing's sarcoma cells, the genetic material in chromosomes #11 and #22 is mismatched. This genetic abnormality is not inherited; instead, the chromosomal change takes place in a single cell after birth.
Scientists in the general medical community still do not yet fully understand what triggers the genetic abnormality that leads to Ewing’s sarcoma, nor have they identified any risk factors. Unlike other tumors, which are known to arise in certain cells (e.g., breast cancer arises in breast cells), Ewing’s sarcoma is not conclusively associated with a precise cell type.
What are the symptoms of Ewing’s sarcoma?
Ewing's sarcoma can develop in any bone; however, it usually affects long bones, such as the thighbone (femur), shinbone (tibia) and upper arm bone (humerus). It can also occur in the chest wall or pelvis. In some cases, the first sign is a palpable mass, although it can take months (and sometimes years) for a tumor to grow large enough to be felt or cause pain. The pain may be mild and sporadic at first, then become more intense and constant over time.
Other warning signs of Ewing’s sarcoma include:
- Bone tenderness and swelling
- Unexplained fatigue
- Fever with no known cause
- Unintended weight loss
Sometimes, Ewing’s sarcoma is detected after an injury, such as a fracture in a bone that has been weakened by a tumor.
How is Ewing’s sarcoma treated?
The main treatments for Ewing’s sarcoma are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which are often used in combination. When possible, the primary tumor and a margin of surrounding healthy tissue will usually be surgically removed. If necessary, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy may be administered to shrink the tumor before surgery. Even if there is no evidence of metastasis at the time of diagnosis, a physician will usually plan treatment with the assumption that there is a small amount of spread.
If you would like to learn more about Ewing’s sarcoma or your prognosis, you can request an appointment with a specialist in the Sarcoma Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. Call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online. Your cancer diagnosis is our top priority, and we will connect you with a cancer expert within one day.