Synovial sarcoma is a rare form of cancer that affects the tissue around your joints. It typically appears in your hips, knee, ankle or shoulder. It’s a slow-growing cancer with symptoms that develop over time. Early diagnosis and treatment continues to help people live longer after being diagnosed with synovial sarcoma.
Synovial sarcoma is a rare form of cancer that affects the tissue around your joints. It typically appears in your hips, knees, ankles or shoulder. It’s a slow-growing cancer with symptoms that develop over time. Early diagnosis and new treatments are helping people to live longer and with hope for a cure.
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Like other malignant soft tissue tumors, synovial sarcoma is an uncommon form of cancer. It affects about 1,000 people each year. It’s most often seen in people under age 30 and more commonly seen in males.
Many times synovial sarcoma doesn’t affect your body until the cancerous tumor in your soft tissue grows large enough to create a lump or bump you can see and feel. Some people complain of persistent sharp pain. This usually happens when a tumor is touching nerves in your soft tissue.
The survival rate for synovial sarcoma increased significantly over the past 40 years. Currently, between 59 and 75% of people treated for synovial sarcoma are still alive five years after diagnosis. Unfortunately, synovial sarcoma can reoccur many years later.
Synovial sarcoma grows very slowly. That’s one reason why you might not notice symptoms right away. The other reason you might not notice symptoms is synovial sarcoma can grow without causing pain.
Researchers aren’t sure what causes synovial sarcoma. But they do know it’s related to changes in your chromosomes. A chromosome is a part of your cell that contains your genes. Sometimes your chromosomes break into pieces. The pieces are put back together, but not in the same order or sequence.
For example, if your chromosome was a jigsaw puzzle and your genes were puzzle pieces, the person putting the puzzle together would fit your gene into a spot where it doesn’t belong. In synovial sarcoma, a gene called SYT is jammed up against genes that aren’t the right fit. When this happens, your cells don’t work as they should, and your body develops a mutant gene that causes synovial sarcoma.
Synovial sarcoma symptoms develop over time. Tumors can grow undetected for as long as two years. Synovial sarcoma symptoms are sometimes mistaken for other, less serious conditions. Follow up with your healthcare provider if you have a symptom that doesn’t go away. Typical symptoms are:
Healthcare providers begin diagnosis with a physical examination. They might also use imaging tests such as:
Providers might perform a biopsy to examine tissue from your suspected tumor. They might also examine tissue cells for changes in your chromosomes.
Healthcare providers base treatment on factors including the size of your tumor, how long you’ve had the tumor and whether there are signs your tumor has spread. Providers often choose surgery as the first treatment for synovial sarcoma. Other treatments may include:
Researchers are now evaluating the benefits of combining radiation, surgery and chemotherapy.
Every treatment has different side effects. Talk to your healthcare provider about each treatment so you know what to expect, what your provider can do to help you, and what you can do to help yourself.
Unfortunately, there aren’t ways to prevent synovial sarcoma. That’s because it’s likely caused by changes in your chromosomes, and that’s not something you can control.
One thing you can control is being aware of changes in your body. A lump on your legs and arms that doesn’t go away or is painful might be something your healthcare provider should check. Finding synovial sarcoma early improves your chances of a full recovery.
Healthcare providers have made huge strides in treating synovial sarcoma. That being said, there’s still a chance synovial sarcoma will reoccur, sometimes many years after treatment. Given that, you’ll probably have regular checkups for the first several years after treatment. Your providers will watch for any sign your cancer has returned or surfaced in another area of your body.
The first step is staying strong through treatment. You might have a combination of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation that can take a toll on your body:
You’ll have regular visits with your healthcare provider as you go through treatment. Once treatment is completed, you’ll probably have regular follow-up appointments for the next several years.
You’ll have different questions during diagnosis, treatment and follow up. Some basic questions might be:
Both conditions have similar symptoms and treatments but different risk factors. Some soft tissue sarcomas are linked to certain inherited disorders, while synovial sarcoma is believed to be caused by changes in your chromosomes.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Any cancer diagnosis can launch a tidal wave of emotions as you come to terms with your situation. Being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer can be even more difficult. It’s important that you give yourself time and space to understand your illness and your treatment options. Knowing your choices and what to expect can help ease your anxiety. Your provider is there to answer your questions and make sure you are comfortable with your choices.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/08/2021.
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