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Treating Sarcoma, the Orphan Disease

Sarcoma, a form of soft-tissue cancer, doesn’t receive much attention from researchers, says Meena Bedi, MD, Sharon K. Wadina Professor in Sarcoma Research and associate professor of radiation oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), and sarcoma specialist with the Froedtert & MCW Clinical Cancer Center.

“Sarcomas account for about 1 percent of all adult cancers, so it’s really rare,” she explains, adding that the disease is much more common in childhood cancers.

But its effects are devastating, she continues, and if it’s not detected early or spreads to other parts of the body, the prognosis is not good for patients.

For a while now, the standard of care for sarcoma has been radiation and surgery with or without chemotherapy, followed by regular surveillance where CT scans or MRIs are used to check whether the disease has returned or spread to other areas of the body. Dr. Bedi is currently leading a team of researchers from MCW and Froedtert Hospital in piloting a new project aimed at creating a blood test for soft tissue sarcomas. Hers is the only group in the United States focusing its research on circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) for sarcomas. ctDNA is DNA originating from the tumor that is present in the blood. The team’s hope is that the study will lead to the biggest recent breakthrough in treatment for sarcoma.

The study will involve two cohorts of 25 patients each. One group will have a localized form (stage I-III) of sarcoma and the other group will have metastatic disease (stage IV). The goal in patients with stage I-III disease is to assess if ctDNA can detect local or distant recurrence sooner than seen on surveillance. In addition to this, the goal in patients with stage IV disease is to assess if systemic therapies decrease the concentration of ctDNA within the blood.

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