The sad truth is, scientists don’t know exactly what causes most soft tissue sarcomas.
They still don’t know why most soft tissue sarcomas develop in people who have no apparent risk factors.
As a leiomyosarcoma survivor, I am going to bring back my own experience from the first day my cancer grew.
May 2015, I started noticing the small lump on the upper right of my thigh. Well, all I thought it was just another cyst because I used to have one when I was a teenager. I did a minor surgery and it was responded earlier. So, I thought, the bump that grew can wait for the next few months as this may be a benign one.
I was wrong.
Eight months later, my sister noticed that the bump was growing. I was actually aware that it was growing but I am just keeping it myself. Each time I hit my thigh to any hard objects such as a chair, table or motorbike (each time I go up to sit on a motorbike here in Vietnam), I felt pain and it resulted to a big and dark bruise.
I never made any doctor’s visit until I finally decided after my father’s burial. One month later after my father’s passing away, I was too anxious to see a doctor since I felt a lot of pain all over my legs. Until then, the second visit, the finally gave his diagnosis as a soft tissue tumor.
What the hell is that “soft tissue tumor?”
I seriously have no idea what it is. I only know the word “tumor” and I thought that sounds scary. And it was indeed scary! From that day on, my cancer journey started. It was difficult, the most challenging and the scariest event happened in my entire life. There is only one definition when I heard that I have cancer at that time.
Yes, I thought I am going anytime soon.
Let’s see what are the signs and symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma:
- A new lump or a lump that’s growing (anywhere on your body)
- Abdominal pain that’s getting worse
- Blood in your stool or vomit
- Black, tarry stools (when bleeding happens in the stomach or bowels, the blood can turn black as it’s digested, and it might make the stool very black and sticky)
These are the only signs and symptoms American Cancer Society had discoursed. Funny thing is, I don’t have those signs before I found out I had cancer.
Like what I had written from my past blogs before I was diagnosed with soft tissue tumor, I was bombarded with a lot of depressing issues and traumatic experiences. Therefore, I thought that time that the contributing factor of my cancer is stress. But, it isn’t.
According to the research, it has shown that some of these risk factors affect the genes in cells in the soft tissues. Researchers have made great progress in understanding how certain changes in DNA (pieces of genes) can cause normal cells to become cancer. DNA carries the instructions for nearly everything our cells do. We usually look like our parents because they are the source of our DNA. But DNA affects more than just the way we look.
Cancers can be caused by DNA mutations (defects) that turn on oncogenes or turn off tumor suppressor genes. DNA mutations in soft tissue sarcoma are common. But they’re usually acquired during life rather than having been inherited before birth. Acquired mutations may result from exposure to radiation or cancer-causing chemicals. In most sarcomas, they occur for no apparent reason.
Yes, it’s sad to know that my cancer occurs for no apparent reason.
I may concur to what I always say to myself that I have been living a healthy lifestyle except for major anxiety beforehand and too much stress. Until today, I am not certain what is the risk factor that changes my chance of getting this disease.
The fact is, different cancers have different risk factors. For example, unprotected exposure to strong sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer. Smoking is a risk factor for cancers of the lung, and many other cancers. But risk factors don’t tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even many doesn’t mean that you will get cancer.
Also, many people get cancer without having a risk factor.
Whenever someone asks me what is my cancer, I usually call it cancer “skin cancer” to be easily understood by everyone, but this is not anything like other skin cancer that caused by sun exposure.
For early detection, whenever you see any unexplained lumps or growths or other symptoms that may be caused by a soft tissue sarcoma, go to a doctor right away. Because there are no screening tests and exams are recommended for people who have no family history of sarcoma or other sarcoma risk factors.
***This article has been reworded and adapted from American Cancer Society.
Cielo Superticioso, is the author of The Cancer Voice Asia created last August 2017. She starts the advocacy of The Cancer Voice after she successfully beat cancer in Saigon, Vietnam by writing articles. She is committed and determined to continue the campaign in order to strengthen the cancer awareness because no one should fight cancer alone.