Sarcoma factsheet


Sarcomas are a type of cancer in the bones and soft tissues. They can grow anywhere in the body, in tissue like:

  • fat – tissue that protects organs and stores energy
  • muscle – tissue that helps with movement
  • ligaments – tissue that connects bones
  • tendons – tissue that connects muscles to bones
  • cartlidge – tissue that connects joints and bones
  • blood vessels – tiny tubes that help blood to travel through the body
  • nerves – fibres that send signals back and forth from the brain 
  • skin – three layers of tissue that cover and protect the body.

Sarcomas are a rare type of cancer but are one of the most common types found in children. 

There are 50 different types of sarcomas, the most common of which is rhabdomyosarcoma. Rhabdomyosarcomas grow in the muscle tissue.

Children can develop sarcomas at any age. Most cases are found:

  • between two and six years old
  • between 15 and 19 years old
  • under ten years old for rhabdomyosarcomas.

 Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of sarcoma can depend on where the cancer has grown. Some symptoms can
For example:

  • a tumour inside the nose or sinuses can cause a blocked nose, discharge from the nose, or appear as a mass coming out of the ear
  • a tumour behind the eye socket would cause the eye to bulge out
  • tumours in the muscles of the arms or legs will show up as a lump 
  • tumours around the bladder will stop a child from being able to wee properly
  • a tumour near the rectum can push on the organ and cause constipation.  

 Other symptoms can include: 

  • drooping eyelids
  • swelling of the eye
  • rapid vision changes 
  • a rough or hoarse voice
  • difficulty swallowing 
  • belly pain that lasts for more than a week.


Your child’s local doctor will try to rule out any other illnesses first. They will:

  • take a blood test
  • take a medical and family history
  • do a physical check.

Your child will be referred to a cancer specialist, called an oncologist.

The oncologist will be able to check symptoms and diagnose sarcoma using:

  • tests that check the blood and bone marrow
  • x-rays, ultrasounds, and bone scans to see the tumour and whether it has spread 
  • biopsy - a procedure where a sample of the tumour is taken out and tested.


The treatment of sarcoma can include a mix of:

  • surgery – to remove the tumour
  • chemotherapy – where a mixture of medications are given to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing
  • radiotherapy -    where high-energy X-rays are used to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.


Risk factors for sarcomas

Some rare health conditions are genetic or passed down through families, and they can increase the risk of sarcoma. 

These conditions include: 

  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome –which increases the risk of rare cancers
  • Neurofibromatosis – that causes tumours on the tissue of the brain, spinal cord and nerves
  • Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome – which causes body parts to grow more than they should
  • Costello syndrome – which causes a range of issues with the heart, muscles, bones, skin, brain and spinal cord.

Support for families

A cancer diagnosis can leave families and children feeling overwhelmed, scared, anxious, and upset. Practical and emotional support during and after treatment is essential and can come from: 

  • family
  • friends
  • healthcare professionals
  • specialised support services.

Speak to your child’s treatment team for information about support services.

Last updated Monday 25th March 2024


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024