When Taryn Castillo Bravo (pictured above) felt a lump in her left thigh, she thought it was cellulite or that she had bumped into something. At 46, the mother of three young adult children just figured it was one of the down sides to aging. An MRI, however, told a different story. The growing mass was sarcoma, a rare cancer that can occur in the soft tissues or bone.
“I never thought it could be cancer,” Ms. Bravo said. “There is no history of cancer in my family and It wasn’t even painful.” Located halfway between her knee and hip, the lump grew larger than the size of a golf ball.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, on April 2, Miami Cancer Institute physicians removed the tumor. Ms. Bravo went home the same day. Limb-salvage surgery saved her leg ― and her life.
“I am so grateful. I love to exercise and dance and now I am able to do those things again. And Zumba. I love Zumba,” the Kendall resident said. She also praised the hospital’s coronavirus safety precautions. “They maintained the strictest safety measures to protect patients. I felt very safe.”
Orthopedic oncologist Cecilia Belzarena, M.D., who performed Ms. Bravo’s surgery, said it’s important that no delays occur when it comes to treating sarcoma. “The longer a patient waits, the higher the chances are of the tumor increasing in size and also spreading to distant sites, becoming what we call metastatic disease,” she said.
Sarcomas can be found in the abdomen, chest, arms and legs. Soft tissue sarcomas form in muscle, tendon, fat and skin, while bone cancer most commonly develops in the long bones of the leg and arm. Bone cancers occur more often in children than adults. According to the American Cancer Society, some 13,130 patients in the U.S. will be diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma this year, while another 3,600 will be diagnosed with bone cancer.
Dr. Belzarena encourages anyone who finds a lump to go to the doctor quickly, even if it is not painful. “I wish they would come to us sooner rather than waiting for a mass to go away,” she said. Often, pain isn’t felt until the tumor grows large enough to press on nerves, blood vessels or other structures. In addition, any lump that is greater than 5 cm (about the size of a golf ball) should be biopsied.
“About 25 percent of sarcoma patients seen at specialized cancer centers have already undergone an unplanned resection (removal of the tumor) before seeing an oncology orthopedist,” Dr. Belzarena said. Patients who don’t seek care at a specialty cancer center often don’t have an MRI. “The problem is that when there is no biopsy, when a doctor doesn’t know in advance that a lump is cancerous, some cancer may be left behind. The resection can be incomplete. In these cases, a second surgery is necessary. That of course has higher chances of complications and makes the disease’s local control more difficult.”
Miami Cancer Institute offers personalized, sophisticated treatment for sarcoma, based on the recommendation of an entire team of medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, interventional oncologists and orthopedic oncologists. In Ms. Bravo’s case, the news was good. Because the cancer had not spread, she did not need chemotherapy, radiation or other treatments in addition to surgery. She didn’t even need rehabilitation.
“I was so happy after surgery,” Ms. Bravo said. “Everything was excellent. I can walk perfectly, and I have no limitations. I can dance.”