Sarcoma Diagnosis

Accurate diagnosis is crucial for developing the best treatment plan for your type and stage of sarcoma. Fox Chase physicians who specialize in sarcoma will review all available tests and results to make an informed diagnosis.

If sarcoma is suspected, our team commonly conducts the following tests to diagnose or rule out this type of cancer:

  • Imaging tests: Through advanced imaging technologies, our specialists can see inside the body and check for cancer:
    • Spiral high-speed computed tomography (CT) scan: Uses X-rays to capture high-resolution images inside the body
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: Uses radio waves and a powerful magnetic field to take detailed pictures inside the body
    • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: Uses a sugar radiotracer injected into a vein to show cancer cells, which use sugar faster than normal cells and look brighter in images
    • X-ray: Uses small amounts of radiation to make pictures of organs and tissues
    • Ultrasound: Uses sound waves to produce internal images
  • Biopsy: A tissue sample is removed with a hollow needle and checked for cancer cells by a pathologist
  • Physical exam: Your doctor will take your medical history, discuss your symptoms and check your body for signs of disease

How Soon Can I Expect my Test Results?

It usually takes at least a few days to receive a test report, although the time varies for each patient. Your physician will provide your test results as soon as possible, along with a thorough explanation and answers to any questions you have. At that time, your physician will recommend a treatment plan tailored to your diagnosis. If the quantity of tumor material is sufficient, your doctor will discuss the possibility of performing genetic testing of the tumor DNA to identify mutations present in the cancer cells.

What If I Have Already Been Diagnosed at Another Hospital?

If you have been diagnosed with sarcoma, you will most likely want to start treatment as soon as possible. However, it may be a good idea to have another sarcoma expert weigh in on your diagnosis and treatment options first.

At Fox Chase, we routinely offer second opinions, which can help identify new treatment options that might be more effective for your condition. In fact, it is common to seek a second opinion for a cancer diagnosis, and some insurance companies even require it.

Coming to Fox Chase also means you will likely have greater access to sarcoma clinical trials appropriate for your condition. Our designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) means we are part of a network of research centers where hundreds of clinical trials take place every day. The results of studies conducted by Fox Chase doctors have been crucial in advancing the understanding of sarcoma diagnosis and treatment around the world.

If you decide to seek a second opinion at Fox Chase, you will either need to provide your medical records, imaging results and pathology report (the medical report that gives a diagnosis based on tests run on tissue samples) or have your physician forward them to us. Our nurse navigators will help you throughout this process. Once your previous medical documents are received, our specialists will review your pathology report, imaging and medical history thoroughly to determine a diagnosis and recommended treatment plan.

When you come for your appointment, it may be helpful to bring a family member or friend who can help you understand and remember the information you receive.

Staging and Grading of Sarcoma

The stage of your sarcoma will help determine your individualized treatment plan. Sarcoma is categorized by the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) into four stages of development, with each stage indicating the size and grade of the tumor.

The grade indicates the rate the tumor is likely to grow and spread based upon the appearance of the cancerous cells. Soft tissue sarcomas are graded from 1 to 3, with higher-grade sarcomas having a greater likelihood of growing and spreading at a faster and more aggressive rate.

Staging for sarcomas is complex and takes into account the type of sarcoma, where it is located in the body, the size and grade of the tumor and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes.

Your Patient Care Team at Fox Chase

To design an individualized care and treatment plan, our sarcoma team draws on the diverse experience of physicians in surgical oncology, radiation oncology, hematology/oncology, orthopedic oncology and reconstructive surgery, as well as other clinical staff. We work together to diagnose your cancer and help you make informed decisions about treatment.

Your dedicated team also includes nurse navigators, social workers and other specialized support staff. As a key part of your team, they will provide emotional support and coping strategies for you and your family when you need them most.

At Fox Chase, we take enormous pride in providing world-class care for our patients with sarcoma.

“Working with sarcoma patients in the 21st century is very exciting. Our clinical research is helping us determine specific targets, so we can understand the benefits of specific treatments for certain types of sarcoma versus others. The biology of sarcoma tumors is better understood today, and the days of having one clinical trial for all sarcomas are gone.”
Margaret von Mehren, MD, Medical Oncologist and Chief, Division of Sarcoma Medical Oncology