Angiosarcoma is a rare form of aggressive, malignant cancer that affects the inner lining of blood cells. While it can occur anywhere in the body, it most often appears on the skin, particularly on the face and scalp and is sometimes seen on the extremities. It can, and often does, metastasize to other areas of the body, frequently the lungs, lymph nodes, bone, liver and other soft tissue areas. Both men and women can develop angiosarcoma and it occurs in all races but is usually seen in elderly patients.
In most cases, the cause of the cancer is unknown. Lymphedema, swelling due to a build-up of fluid, may sometimes lead to angiosarcoma as can previous radiation therapy. This cancer has also been associated with exposure to vinyl chloride, arsenic and thorium dioxide.
When angiosarcoma appears on the skin it can look like a:
- skin infection
- lesion that doesn’t heal
- a lump
It may be purplish-violet in color. If these symptoms appear at a site which previously received radiation therapy, you should contact your doctor immediately.
Tumors below the skin are rarely noticeable.
Unfortunately, because angiosarcoma often appears as a bruise or infection, diagnosis is frequently delayed until the cancer has spread. As with other skin cancers, a diagnosis of angiosarcoma is made with a biopsy of a piece of the tumor. In addition, your doctor may order tests such as CT scan, MRI or PET scans to determine the size and location of the tumor as well as to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Surgery is used to remove tumors. Chemotherapy and radiation may be used in conjunction with, or after surgery, to help eradicate the cancer, especially if it has spread to other parts of the body. Regular follow-up is important as recurrences of the cancer are common.
"Angiosarcoma of Soft Tissue: A Study of 80 Cases," 2998, June, J.M. Mei-Kindblom, L.G. Kindblom, American Journal of Surgical Pathology
"Cutaneous Angiosarcoma of the Scalp," 2003, Timothy M. Pawlik, M.D. et al, American Cancer Society
"What is Angiosarcoma?" 2012, Oct, Barbara Tunstall, Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.