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General Information About Ewing Sarcoma

Key Points

  • Ewing sarcoma is a type of tumor that forms in bone or soft tissue.
  • Signs and symptoms of Ewing sarcoma include swelling and pain near the tumor.
  • Tests that examine the bone and soft tissue are used to diagnose and stage Ewing sarcoma.
  • A biopsy is done to diagnose Ewing sarcoma.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery).

Ewing sarcoma is a type of tumor that forms in bone or soft tissue.

Ewing sarcoma is a type of tumor that forms from a certain kind of cell in bone or soft tissue. Ewing sarcoma may be found in the bones of the legs, arms, feet, hands, chest, pelvis, spine, or skull. Ewing sarcoma also may be found in the soft tissue of the trunk, arms, legs, head and neck, abdominal cavity, or other areas.

Ewing sarcoma is most common in adolescents and young adults.

Ewing sarcoma has also been called peripheral primitive neuroectodermal tumor, Askin tumor (Ewing sarcoma of the chest wall), extraosseous Ewing sarcoma (Ewing sarcoma in tissue other than bone), and Ewing sarcoma family of tumors.

Signs and symptoms of Ewing sarcoma include swelling and pain near the tumor.

These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by Ewing sarcoma or by other conditions. Check with your child’s doctor if your child has any of the following:

  • Pain and/or swelling, usually in the arms, legs, chest, back, or pelvis.
  • A lump (which may feel soft and warm) in the arms, legs, chest, or pelvis.
  • Fever for no known reason.
  • A bone that breaks for no known reason.

Tests that examine the bone and soft tissue are used to diagnose and stage Ewing sarcoma.

Procedures that make pictures of the bones and soft tissues and nearby areas help diagnose Ewing sarcoma and show how far the cancer has spread. The process used to find out if cancer cells have spread within and around the bones and soft tissues is called staging.

In order to plan treatment, it is important to know if the cancer is in the area where it first formed or if it has spread to other parts of the body. Tests and procedures to detect, diagnose, and stage Ewing sarcoma are usually done at the same time.

The following tests and procedures may be used to diagnose or stage Ewing sarcoma:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, such as the area where the tumor formed. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
    Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the abdomen; drawing shows a child lying on a table that slides into the MRI scanner, which takes pictures of the inside of the body. The pad on the child’s abdomen helps make the pictures clearer.
    Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the abdomen. The child lies on a table that slides into the MRI scanner, which takes pictures of the inside of the body. The pad on the child’s abdomen helps make the pictures clearer.
  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, such as the area where the tumor formed or the chest, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
    Computed tomography (CT) scan of the abdomen; drawing shows a child lying on a table that slides through the CT scanner, which takes x-ray pictures of the inside of the abdomen.
    Computed tomography (CT) scan of the abdomen. The child lies on a table that slides through the CT scanner, which takes x-ray pictures of the inside of the abdomen.
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do. A PET scan and a CT scan are often done at the same time. If there is any cancer, this increases the chance that it will be found.
    Positron emission tomography (PET) scan; drawing shows a child lying on table that slides through the PET scanner.
    Positron emission tomography (PET) scan. The child lies on a table that slides through the PET scanner. The head rest and white strap help the child lie still. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into the child's vein, and a scanner makes a picture of where the glucose is being used in the body. Cancer cells show up brighter in the picture because they take up more glucose than normal cells do.
  • Bone scan: A procedure to check if there are rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, in the bone. A very small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein and travels through the bloodstream. The radioactive material collects in the bones with cancer and is detected by a scanner.
    Bone scan; drawing shows a child lying on a table that slides under the scanner, a technician operating the scanner, and a computer monitor that will show images made during the scan.
    Bone scan. A small amount of radioactive material is injected into the child's vein and travels through the blood. The radioactive material collects in the bones. As the child lies on a table that slides under the scanner, the radioactive material is detected and images are made on a computer screen.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: The removal of bone marrow and a small piece of bone by inserting a hollow needle into the hipbone. Samples are removed from both hipbones. A pathologist views the bone marrow and bone under a microscope to see if the cancer has spread.
    Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy; drawing shows a child lying face down on a table and a bone marrow needle being inserted into the right hip bone. An inset shows the bone marrow needle being inserted through the skin into the bone marrow of the hip bone.
    Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. After a small area of skin is numbed, a bone marrow needle is inserted into the child’s hip bone. Samples of blood, bone, and bone marrow are removed for examination under a microscope.
  • X-ray: An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body, such as the chest or the area where the tumor formed.
  • Complete blood count (CBC): A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the following:
  • Blood chemistry studies: A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances, such as lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. An unusual (higher or lower than normal) amount of a substance can be a sign of disease.

A biopsy is done to diagnose Ewing sarcoma.

Tissue samples are removed during a biopsy so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. It is helpful if the biopsy is done at the same center where treatment will be given.

  • Needle biopsy: For a needle biopsy, tissue is removed using a needle. This type of needle biopsy may be done if it’s possible to remove tissue samples large enough to be used for testing.
  • Incisional biopsy: For an incisional biopsy, a sample of tissue is removed through an incision in the skin.
  • Excisional biopsy: The removal of an entire lump or area of tissue that doesn’t look normal.

The specialists (pathologist, radiation oncologist, and surgeon) who will treat the patient usually work together to decide where the needle should be placed or the biopsy incision should be made. This is done so that the biopsy doesn't affect later treatment such as surgery to remove the tumor or radiation therapy.

If there is a chance that the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, one or more lymph nodes may be removed and checked for signs of cancer.

The following tests may be done on the tissue that is removed:

  • Cytogenetic analysis: A laboratory test in which cells in a sample of tissue are viewed under a microscope to look for certain changes in the chromosomes.
  • Immunohistochemistry: A test that uses antibodies to check for certain antigens in a sample of tissue. The antibody is usually linked to a radioactive substance or a dye that causes the tissue to light up under a microscope. This type of test may be used to tell the difference between different types of cancer.
  • Flow cytometry: A laboratory test that measures the number of cells in a sample, the percentage of live cells in a sample, and certain characteristics of cells, such as size, shape, and the presence of tumor markers on the cell surface. The cells are stained with a light-sensitive dye, placed in a fluid, and passed in a stream before a laser or other type of light. The measurements are based on how the light-sensitive dye reacts to the light.

Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery).

The factors that affect prognosis (chance of recovery) are different before and after treatment.

Before treatment, prognosis depends on:

  • Whether the tumor has spread to lymph nodes or distant parts of the body.
  • Where in the body the tumor started.
  • Whether the tumor formed in the bone or in soft tissue.
  • How large the tumor is at when the tumor is diagnosed.
  • Whether the LDH level in the blood is higher than normal.
  • Whether the tumor has certain gene changes.
  • Whether the child is younger than 15 years.
  • The patient's gender.
  • Whether the child has had treatment for a different cancer before Ewing sarcoma.
  • Whether the tumor has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back).

After treatment, prognosis is affected by:

If the cancer recurs after initial treatment, prognosis depends on:

  • Whether the cancer came back more than two years after the initial treatment.
  • Where in the body the tumor came back.
  • The type of initial treatment given.

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