If you have symptoms or other reasons that suggest you may have a sarcoma, your doctor will use one or more methods to find out if the disease is present, including reviewing your complete medical history to check for risk factors, and to ask you about symptoms, as well as any other medical conditions. They will also examine you for signs of sarcomas and other health problems. Currently, there are no effective screening programs in place for soft tissue sarcoma. However, there are many diagnostic methods available which can be used by your doctor to find and identify a sarcoma.
A biopsy describes the process of taking a sample of tissue tumour and testing it in order to determine if there is a presence of cancer. A physical exam may identify a tumour that is believed to be a sarcoma, but a biopsy is the only way to truly identify it as a sarcoma, rather than another type of cancer or a benign tumour. There are many types of biopsies that can be used, such as a fine needle aspiration or a core needle biopsy. Depending on the size and location of the tumour, your doctor will choose the most appropriate method.
This test may be done to determine if the sarcoma has spread to your lungs.
CT Scan and MRI
The computed tomography (CT) scan is an procedure wherein many x-rays are taken as the machine rotates around you, and a computer then combines these images into a cross-sectional image of your body. A CT scan can be used if the doctor suspects a soft tissue sarcoma in the chest or abdomen, but it can also be used to see if the sarcoma has spread to the liver or other organs.
MRI scans are often part of the work-up of any tumour, as they can provide a good picture of the extent of the tumour. They are often better than CT scans in evaluating sarcomas in the arms or legs. Since these scans reveal details about the tumour, including location, size, and sometimes the type of tissue it comes from (ex. fat or muscle). This makes MRI scans useful in planning a biopsy.
Ultrasound uses sound waves and echoes to produce pictures of parts of the body. A small instrument emits sound waves and picks up the echoes as they bounce off the organs. The sound wave echoes are converted by a computer into an image that is displayed on a computer screen. This test may be done before a biopsy to see if the lump is a fluid-containing cyst (and is likely benign), or if it is more solid and likely a tumor. This test is often not needed if an MRI was done.
Information taken from Sarcoma Cancer Foundation of Canada.