What is angiosarcoma?
An angiosarcoma is a rare form of cancer that starts in the inner layer of cells of the blood vessels. It can develop in any part of the body, however, about half of all cases are seen in the head and neck region. Other most common sites seen to occur are in the skin, soft tissues, breast, spleen, liver, bone and heart.
Causes and risk factors
In most instances, the causative factor of sarcoma is unknown. Certain conditions are associated with an increased likelihood of development of sarcoma, which includes:
- The presence of chronic lymphoedema (collection of lymph fluid) in the arms of, ‘breast cancer patients’ who have undergone surgery for the removal of breast and lymph nodes under the arm (radical mastectomy surgery).
- Patients who have undergone radiotherapy.
- Patients who have foreign material in the body such as steel, plastic, shrapnel and Dacron.
- Those with occupational exposure to chemicals such as arsenic and vinyl chloride.
Symptoms and signs
The symptoms and signs of angiosarcoma depend on the location of the tumour. Many times, the symptoms may not be noticeable till the tumour has grown big.
Angiosarcomas tend to have two patterns of growth. In one type, they form hard white masses and in the second type they grow to look like blood-filled blisters that grow in an irregular pattern on the surface of the skin or form lumps in soft tissues or organs.
Skin: The cutaneous angiosarcoma mostly occurs in the head and neck region of older people. It may be seen as a widening bruise, non-healing ulcer or a blue-black nodule. They may bleed and can be painful.
Soft tissue: Angiosarcoma in soft tissues occur as fast growing tumours in the limbs or abdomen. If they develop in the abdomen, they may grow to huge size, before being detected. They can cause internal bleeding and anaemia.
Breast: Fast growing, non-painful angiosarcoma grow deep in the breast and cause a broad enlargement of the breast along with bluish coloration of the overlying skin.
Bone: Masses may develop in one of the limbs causing enlargement of that area. It causes pain and tenderness in the affected area.
Liver: Tumour here manifests as pain over the right side of the upper abdomen, fatigue and weight loss.
Lungs: Involvement of lungs manifests as cough, chest pain, blood in sputum, weight loss and breathlessness.
Based on the physical examination findings, your doctor may conduct imaging tests such as X-ray, CT scan, MRI, or PET scan to identify the exact location, the size of the tumour and its spread to the other sites in the body.
A needle biopsy of the affected area may be conducted to remove a small piece of the tumour for examination under a microscope.
Treatment and prevention
The main treatment method is surgical removal of the tumour.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be used as part of treatment before or after surgery.
Angiosarcoma can spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).
This tumour has a high death rate and short survival times.
If you are diagnosed with angiosarcoma, discuss the treatment options with your doctor accompanied by your family members.
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- Sarcoma foundation of America. Patient resources – Angiosarcoma.Accessed at http://www.curesarcoma.org/patient-resources/sarcoma-subtypes/angiosarcoma/
- The Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Foundation. Angiosarcoma. Accessed at http://sarcomahelp.org/angiosarcoma.html
- DermNet NZ. Vascular skin problems- Angiosarcoma. Accessed at http://www.dermnetnz.org/vascular/angiosarcoma.html