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Highly specialised treatment for bone and soft-tissue tumours

Balgrist belongs to the Zurich Sarcoma Centre

Bone and soft-tissue tumours are extremely complex diseases that present a particular challenge because of their rarity. In the Zurich Sarcoma Centre, which is unique in Switzerland, we care for patients thought to have a tumour in the musculoskeletal system – with comprehensive interdisciplinary treatment.

Interdisciplinary treatment for tumor patients.

Balgrist – the only orthopaedic hospital for tumour surgery in Zurich
The treatment of malignant bone and soft-tissue tumours is considered to be highly specialised medicine (HSM). For this reason, the necessary surgical procedures may be carried out at only a few hospitals in Switzerland. Balgrist University Hospital is the only orthopaedic hospital with service level agreement for the treatment of bone cancers from the Zurich Cantonal Department of Health.

Appointments

We are happy to arrange appointments for Wednesday and Thursday morning.

+41443863095
+41 44 386 16 66
EMail

You can reach us as follows:
Monday - Friday
8.30 a.m. - 12.00 noon
1.00 p.m. - 5.00 p.m.

Certified Sarcoma Centre

  • The University Sarcoma Centre in Zurich is the only centre of excellence in Switzerland that is certified by the German Cancer Society (DKG) in accordance with international guidelines.
  • Interdisciplinary cooperation of Tumour Surgery at Balgrist with Oncology and Radio-oncology at the Zurich University Hospital (USZ) provides highly skilled and comprehensive treatment for the patients concerned. Balgrist also functions as a surgical partner to the Zurich University Children’s Hospital.
  • The Zurich Sarcoma Centre works closely with many national and international hospitals and universities, enabling our experts to access a worldwide network of specialists and discuss complex treatment strategies.

What are bone and soft-tissue tumours?

As with the internal organs, tumours may develop in bone and soft tissues. They are most commonly found in the arms, legs and pelvis, and are often located near to a joint. Bone and soft-tissue tumours are classified as benign and malignant (cancer). Malignant tumours carry the risk of spreading to other parts of the body and forming new lesions, especially in the small blood vessels in the lungs.

What is a sarcoma?
Sarcoma is the technical term for malignant tumours (cancers) that arise directly in bone or soft tissues (fatty tissue, muscles, connective tissue, and nerve tissue). If cancer spreads to the bones from other organs (prostate, breast, lungs, thyroid gland, etc.), we call these lesions secondaries or metastases.

What sort of tumours are there?
There are many different types of bone and soft-tissue tumour. The three most common cancers in bone are osteosarcomas, chondrosarcomas and Ewing’s sarcomas. Liposarcoma (in fatty tissue) is the commonest malignant tumour found in soft tissue. Each type of tumour requires individual treatment.

What causes bone and soft-tissue cancer?
Compared with other types of cancer, bone and soft-tissue cancers are very rare. No clear cause has yet been discovered: lifestyle and diet in particular do not seem to affect their development.

How are they diagnosed?

How are bone and soft-tissue tumours discovered?
In most cases, pain or a palpable lump brings the patient to their general practitioner or an orthopaedic surgeon. X-rays or MRI scans are the best way of showing changes in the bones or growths in the tissues. Tumours are often incidental findings, for example seen on an X-ray taken after an accident

What investigations are necessary?
Whenever a bone or soft-tissue tumour is suspected, our Tumour Team takes over the further diagnostic investigation and imaging. We get referrals from GPs and specialists throughout Switzerland. Naturally, patients can also contact us directly to investigate any unexplained findings. We invite patients to an appointment in our outpatient clinic. We often need to take a tissue specimen (a biopsy) to confirm the diagnosis.

What is a biopsy?
A biopsy consists of taking a small piece of tissue from the tumour and examining it under the microscope. The biopsy tells us what type of tumour is present and how aggressively it is growing. At Balgrist University Hospital, we perform all biopsies as gently as possible, using minimally invasive techniques. A fine needle is inserted into the tumour under CT or ultrasound guidance. This procedure can be done as an outpatient and our anaesthetists make sure that it is as comfortable as possible for the patients.

What operations are carried out on bone and soft-tissue tumours?

The top priority is to remove the tumour completely. Thanks to huge surgical advances, only exceptional cases now need an amputation. Our aim is to restore the function of the affected arm or leg as much as possible. Tumour surgery is a team effort by cancer and joint specialists, so that our patients benefit from all the know-how available in the orthopaedic hospital.

Planning the tumour resection
Balgrist is the only hospital in Switzerland where specialists can establish a 3D model of the tumour and use the computer to plan its removal to the millimetre. During the operation, specially made templates from the 3D printer are used to convert the planning precisely into surgical reality. Before the operation, we have a personal discussion with the patient to explain the various steps in the surgical procedure and answer any questions they may have.

How can you replace the bone that has been removed?
After the complete resection of a tumour, a defect is often left in the bone. To preserve the function of the limb as much as possible, team leaders and the senior consultants look at the possibility of joint replacement: if the cancer also involves the joint it is possible to use a special prothesis. Balgrist University Hospital has internationally renowned expertise in replacement joints. If the cancer does not affect the joint, we can use bone from a donor (an allograft).

How can you replace soft tissues?
In rare cases, the cancer grows around important soft-tissue structures such as blood vessels and nerves, which also have to be removed at the time of operation. Our senior consultant in hand and nerve surgery has many years’ in-depth experience in suturing blood vessels and nerves. Short sections of nerve can be replaced with a cutaneous nerve from the lower leg; arteries can be ‘bridged’ with a vein graft. In Dr. Dominik Kaiser, the Tumour Team has an expert in soft-tissue reconstruction. Such surgical procedures are necessary when the removal of a large tumour makes to impossible to close the skin with sutures. In this situation, the tissue is covered with a skin graft or a muscle flap. And there is always the possibility of cooperating with other surgical disciplines.

Holistic treatment

The diagnosis and treatment of a tumour is very stressful for patients and their relatives. Our specialists discuss matters thoroughly and take enough time to address any questions or fears that the patient may have. In addition to the medical aspects, patients often face considerable organisational challenges at the workplace or during the hospital stay. Nicole Züger of our social services department offers support with expert advice and great understanding. If need be, we can easily call on specialists from the Zurich Cancer League when the patient is suffering from mental stress (psycho-oncology).

Treatment
The most important step in treatment is correct surgical removal of the tumour. Careful surgery usually suffices for benign tumours and basically no further treatment is needed. Patients with malignant tumours may require additional chemotherapy or radiotherapy after the surgery.

Follow-up
Once treatment has finished, patients with cancer are followed up regularly. Patients appreciate the follow-up provided in the Tumour team outpatient clinic. It means that they are always seen by the same person and can build up a trusting relationship. There is no unpleasant waiting time, as the radiological examinations are followed directly by review and discussion in the clinic. Patients who have to travel long distances, for example from the cantons of Ticino or Graubünden, are also happy make the journey to Balgrist for follow-up.

Special outpatient clinics for rare diseases

Together with the Zurich University Hospital and the Children’s Hospital, Balgrist University Hospital cares for patients who have rare diseases of the musculoskeletal system. The internationally recognised terms for such conditions are ‘rare diseases’ or ‘orphan diseases’. Hereditary errors of connective tissue or bone (e.g. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Marfan’s syndrome or osteogenesis imperfecta) and metabolic disorders lead to considerable restriction of the patient’s everyday life. Although many different organs are involved in the disease, the effects on the musculoskeletal system give rise to particularly bothersome complaints.

Close cooperation between various specialists (cardiologists, rheumatologists, endocrinologists, orthopaedic surgeons) is necessary to relieve the symptoms. Dr. Daniel Müller and KD Dr. Böni of Balgrist University Hospital advise affected patients about the possibilism of conservative treatment (e.g. shoe modifications, splints or braces) and surgical options concerning the musculoskeletal system.

New interdisciplinary outpatient clinic at the Sarcoma Centre

The treatment of sarcomas requires close cooperation between various specialists. Every week specialists from Balgrist University Hospital, the Zurich University Hospital, and the Zurich University Children’s Hospital hold a sarcoma board meeting to plan optimal treatment. Balgrist University Hospital heads the sarcoma board together with the Department of Oncology at Zurich University Hospital, and is responsible for musculoskeletal tumours.

So that patients can benefit directly from the close cooperation between the different specialties, we hold interdisciplinary outpatient clinics. During consultations, the specialists discuss the therapeutic options with the patient: surgery, radiotherapy, and medication.

  • Surgery
  • Radiotherapy
  • Medication

Please contact us if you would like more information.

Contact

Dr. Daniel Müller, Team Leader, Tumour Orthopaedics at Balgrist University Hospital

Dr. Dr. Christian Britschgi and Dr. Tamara Rordorf (Oncology USZ),

Dr. Michelle Brown (Radio-Oncology USZ)

Secretariat
+41 44 386 30 95
EMail

Research

An extensive infrastructure and optimal resources at Balgrist Campus are available for the Sarcoma Centre to carry out research on musculoskeletal sarcomas.

  • Swiss Center for Muskuloskeletal Biobanking (SCMB)
    The SCMB is a national reference centre for the collection, storage, and analysis of blood samples and tissue specimens.
  • Unit for Clinical and Applied Resarch (UCAR)
    UCAR identifies diagnostic and treatment methods that are still unsatisfactory today. Working closely with research institutes, they develop solutions for improvement.
  • Sarkomforschung
    New cancer cells are isolated from the blood of affected patients, in order to quantify the response to treatment rapidly and more accurately. 
    Liquid Biopsy

Networking

National and international networking
As bone and soft-tissue tumours are rare diseases, continual information exchange with other cancer specialists is extremely important. The Tumour Team at Balgrist University Hospital has close links with other hospitals at home and abroad. On the initiative of Balgrist University Hospital, university orthopaedic departments throughout Switzerland have agreed to cooperate in the treatment of bone and soft-tissue tumours.

In addition, the Balgrist Tumour Team works closely with the internationally renowned university hospitals in Pisa (Prof. Capanna), Florence (adult patients: Prof. Campanacci; children: Dr. Beltrami), Paris (Prof. Masquelet) and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York (Prof. Healey).

Sarcoma research team

Sander Botter
Head of Tissue Bank
Sander Botter
Unai Silvan
Head of Sarcoma Research
Unai Silvan