90 cases of sarcoma are diagnosed in children & adolescents each year in Australia.

80% survival rate for some types of sarcoma, but others can be below 50%.

Sarcomas tend to grow aggressively and can be difficult to treat.

What is sarcoma?

‘Sarcoma’ is the name of a diverse group of cancers that grow as solid masses or tumours in the bone and other connective tissues of the body. There are dozens of different types of sarcoma, all of which have their own distinct characteristics. 

Sarcoma can develop in: 

  • bones and cartilage

  • ‘soft tissues’ such as muscles, tendons, fat and blood vessels.

How common is sarcoma in children?

Each year in Australia, more than 75 cases of sarcoma are diagnosed in children aged under 15. Most of these (about 45 cases) are soft tissue sarcoma, and the rest are bone sarcoma.  

The most common type of soft tissue sarcoma in children is rhabdomyosarcoma, which forms in muscle tissue. The most common types of bone sarcoma in children are osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma (also known as Ewing’s sarcoma). 

What happens when a child gets sarcoma?

When a child gets sarcoma, the most common sign is a painless lump or swelling under the skin. As the tumour grows, it can cause a range of other symptoms, depending on where it is. For example, it may cause pain, muscle weakness, or limping. 

Sarcoma in children tends to grow aggressively and can be difficult to treat. Survival rates in children younger than 15 are around 77% for soft tissue sarcoma and 81% for bone tumours. 

Survivors of sarcoma have a significantly increased risk of getting a second cancer. This risk is up to 10 times higher in those with bone tumours, and up to 20 times higher in those with rhabdomyosarcoma. 

For more information about sarcoma, see Cancer Australia and the National Institute of Health websites. 

Please note that, while Children’s Cancer Institute works closely with clinicians, we do NOT treat patients and are unable to provide treatment advice. For questions about an individual child’s cancer treatment, or to find out about relevant clinical trials, please contact your treating oncologist. 

We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to study this disease in a way that no-one in the world has been able to do before.”

- Dr Toby Trahair, Clinical Research Fellow

Research into sarcoma

While survival rates for sarcoma have improved over the last few decades, there are still far too many children dying. Children’s Cancer Institute is determined to improve this situation. 

  • In 2019, we recruited a specialist sarcoma researcher to our Translational Tumour Biology team and launched a new sarcoma research program. This research is focused on developing new therapeutic strategies for children that are more effective and less harsh – therapies that specifically target tumour cells and leave healthy cells unharmed.

  • We are investigating new treatments for rhabdomyosarcoma, growing patient-derived tumour cells and testing them for sensitivity to different drugs.

  • We have developed a laboratory model of a very aggressive type of sarcoma called inflammatory myofibroblastic tumour (IMT). We are using the model, which we believe it is the first of its kind in the world, for testing new treatments for children with IMT.  

All statistics cited are from the Australian Childhood Cancer Registry.

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