Sarcomas are a heterogeneous group of malignant neoplasms arising from mesenchymal cells which encompass dozens of histological types and can occur in virtually any anatomic site. They form one of the principal groups of rare cancers in Europe as defined in the RARECARE project. We analysed 45,568 incident cases diagnosed during 1995-2002 and registered by 76 population-based cancer registries. Total crude incidence was 5.6 per 100,000 per year with an estimated 27,908 new cases per year in the EU27 countries, of which 84% were soft tissue sarcomas and 14% were bone sarcomas. Gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GIST) were only widely recognised as an entity in the late 1990s and consequently were under-registered. Their true incidence is believed to be about 1.5 per 100,000. Age-standardised incidence of soft tissue sarcomas ranged from 3.3 per 100,000 in Eastern Europe to 4.7 per 100,000 in Northern Europe. About 280,000 persons were estimated to be alive at the beginning of 2003 with a past diagnosis of sarcoma, of which 83% were soft tissue sarcomas and 16% were bone sarcomas. Five-year relative survival for 2000-2002 by the period was 58% for soft tissue sarcomas and 62% for bone sarcomas. The diversity and rarity of sarcomas combined with the quite large number of people affected by them mean that they provide a classic example of the importance of networking in diagnosis, therapy and research for rare cancers.
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