Muhammad Nouman Khan at the Aster Hospital Qusais, where he underwent a surgery to remove the tumour in his spine and was subsequently put under a physiotherapy regime to restore the movement of his legs. Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: An unlikely case of a 30-year-old man being diagnosed with cancer in Sharjah after a lower backache paralysed him has put the spotlight on sarcoma, an uncommon malignancy, among residents.

Muhammad Nouman Khan, who hails from Pakistan, didn’t think much of the lower backache he suffered from time to time until the symptoms progressed and he could not get out of bed. He could not walk and lost control over his bladder too. When he was taken to Aster Hospital in Qusais, investigations, including an MRI and CT imaging of the spine, revealed a tumour in the mid-spine causing destruction of three vertebrae and severe compression of the spinal cord.

Khan had to undergo surgery to remove the tumor and damaged vertebral parts and to stabilise his spine using screws and rods. A biopsy of the tumour also revealed that it was malignant and that it was a case of sarcoma.

Dr Vinay Kumar Gurumath

Dr Vinay Kumar Gurumath, specialist neurology at the hospital, said, “Sarcoma warning signs include a lump or mass that grows, pain or tenderness near the lump, limited range of motion, unexplained weight loss, fatigue and noticeable changes in the skin overlying a lump. If someone has these symptoms, it’s important to consult a doctor.”

Aisha Al Mulla, Director of Friends of Cancer Patients (FoCP), who has also seen several cases of sarcoma, said, “Don’t ignore a lump that is growing too quickly. Get immediate medical attention if pain in or around your bones seems to persist and grow worse.

She said while sarcoma is rare, it’s an aggressive type of cancer. It is an uncommon cancer that can develop in the body’s connective tissues, including muscles, bones, fat, blood vessels and tendons.

Aisha Al Mulla

“Over two decades, FoCP has continued to reiterate the importance of early detection as it is key for a winning battle against cancer. We offer a range of support for anyone diagnosed with or concerned about sarcoma,” she added.

Dr Gurumath said, “Upon suspicion of sarcoma, a doctor will perform tests like imaging scans, biopsies and possibly blood tests to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment options depend on factors like the type, size, and stage of the sarcoma, as well as the patient’s overall health. Treatment may involve surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these.”

Sarcoma: Rare but there Image Credit: Vijith Pullikal/Gulf News

According to him, prognosis for sarcoma varies widely based on factors such as the type, location, stage, and response to treatment. Some sarcomas have better outcomes than others. Early detection and appropriate treatment can significantly improve the chances of a positive outcome.

In Khan’s case, he gradually regained sensation and muscle power in his legs post-surgery. With regular physiotherapy, he regained strength in both legs and was able to walk with minimal support, resuming his daily activities independently. He was hospitalised for a total of 27 days.

The little-known sarcoma is rare but very much there, according to Dr Aisha. Here are some facts about the disease.

● There are at least 70 different types of sarcoma. All subtypes of sarcoma can be grouped into soft tissue sarcomas and bone sarcomas.

● Sarcomas commonly affect the arms, legs and torso. Sarcomas can also appear in the stomach and intestines as well as behind the abdomen and internal reproductive organs.

● Sarcoma is rare, making up less than two per cent of all cancers diagnosed each year.

● The key symptoms are a lump that gets bigger quickly, or a persistent and growing pain in or around the bones.

● Stomach pain, feeling unwell and loss of appetite, or blood in stool or frequent vomiting are other symptoms.