Symptoms of Synovial Sarcoma

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Synovial sarcoma is a type of soft tissue cancer that often grows in the arms and legs, near joints. This condition affects people at a younger age than many other cancers. One-third of people with synovial sarcoma are diagnosed before age 30. Symptoms of synovial sarcoma can include a lump or swelling, pain, and decreased range of motion.

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Frequent Symptoms

Symptoms of synovial sarcoma can take a long time to show up. In fact, on average, this type of cancer is usually present for two years prior to diagnosis. The earliest symptoms of synovial sarcoma are typically the presence of a lump or swelling.

Synovial sarcoma tends to occur in the arms and legs. These parts of the body are often injured through other means that can also cause lumps and swelling, which can make it easy to overlook these symptoms. However, injuries resolve over time; lumps from synovial sarcoma will continue to grow.

Tumors Can Cause Pain in Surrounding Areas

Synovial sarcoma can cause pain, depending on the location of the tumor. Nerves can be compressed by these tumors, causing severe pain and sometimes numbness and/or tingling. Tumors can also get in the way when you are moving the affected joint, causing decreased range of motion.

A host of non-life-threatening medical conditions can also cause joint pain and decreased range of motion, thus misdiagnosis is common with synovial sarcoma early on.

Given the typical age of patients with this condition, younger people are often diagnosed with arthritis, bursitis, tendinitis, synovitis, and myositis—inflammation of different types of soft tissues in your joints.

These inflammatory conditions typically improve with medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes. Pain and swelling caused by synovial sarcoma worsens over time, setting it apart from other less serious conditions.

What to Do for Decreased Range of Motion

If you are experiencing decreased range of motion due to soft tissue sarcoma, consider seeing a physical or occupational therapist. Soft tissue sarcomas that limit range of motion in the leg can affect your ability to walk. A physical therapist can provide an assistive device, such as crutches or a cane, to improve your balance and decrease pain when walking.

Decreased range of motion can also make other activities more difficult. An occupational therapist can teach you new ways of performing daily tasks and provide adaptive equipment to restore your independence despite decreased range of motion.

These therapies might also be prescribed after treatment for synovial sarcoma to help you regain lost range of motion and strength, once the tumor has been removed.

Rare Symptoms

In some people, synovial sarcoma can also cause symptoms that frequently occur with many other types of illness, including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Extreme fatigue

Although not very common, synovial sarcoma can occur in the lungs, which can cause shortness of breath.

Metastasizing

Synovial sarcoma can spread cancer cells to other parts of the body by growing into nearby structures or traveling through the blood or lymphatic system. Cancer that has spread from its original location, called metastatic cancer, can cause a host of other symptoms based on the affected area. Some of these include:

  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and the white of the eyes
  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Pain

Ulcerations

If a synovial sarcoma occurs close to your skin, it could cause an open sore, called an ulceration.

In some cases, this might be one of the first noticeable signs that something is wrong. Unlike a typical scrape or cut, ulcerations will worsen with time and swelling will increase.

Open wounds that occur without trauma should be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible. To reduce risk of infection, allow the affected area to be exposed during your daily shower.

Rinse the area with plain water afterward. Apply petroleum jelly to clean gauze, and secure it in place with a bandage.

Do not clean an ulceration with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. These solutions will dry out your skin, potentially causing more damage.

When to See a Doctor

While you might not think to see a doctor for every little pain, bump, or lump, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. See your doctor if you have these symptoms that appear for no apparent reason or don’t improve within a few days.

Your family doctor will likely refer you to an oncologist—a doctor who specializes in the treatment of cancer—after completing their evaluation. Your family doctor might also send you to see an orthopedist—a doctor who specializes in the treatment of bone and soft tissue conditions—to rule out other diagnoses that have symptoms similar to synovial sarcoma.

A Word From Verywell

Finding a lump can be a scary experience. Keep in mind, however, that synovial sarcoma is a rare condition that shares symptoms with many other less serious medical conditions. Early detection is important, so it’s worth getting a bump checked out if it’s causing you pain or discomfort.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. National Organization for Rare Disorders. Soft tissue sarcoma.

  4. National Cancer Institute. Metastatic cancer: when cancer spreads. Updated November 10, 2020.

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