What is a desmoid tumor?

Desmoid tumors are powerful—but so is knowledge

Understanding this rare disease

Woman thinking

Because desmoid tumors are rare and may not be top of mind for physicians, trying to learn about your condition can be confusing.

One website may tell you one thing or refer to a desmoid tumor in a certain way, while another, or even your doctor, may refer to it in a completely different way. Always speak with your doctor if you have questions.

There is potential for desmoid tumors to be misdiagnosed as another disease. Common misdiagnoses include:1,2,*

  • Overgrown scars (like hypertrophic scars or keloids)
  • Different cancer types (like low-grade sarcomas, gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), schwannoma, or leiomyoma)
  • Noncancerous growths (like nodular fasciitis, lipoma, or fibroma)

It’s completely normal for these words to be unfamiliar. Talking about a rare disease can feel like learning a new language. If you’re ever confused about a term, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor to explain it.

From market research conducted by SpringWorks Therapeutics.

A tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue. It forms when cells grow and divide more than they should or don’t die when they should.3

Desmoid tumors are found in tissues that connect, support, and surround other body parts, so they are categorized as soft tissue tumors. Soft tissue (or connective tissue) refers to muscle, fat, nerves, and tendons, which is why desmoid tumors can be found almost anywhere in the body.4 Because cells in the soft tissues of desmoid tumors are called fibroblasts, desmoid tumors are sometimes referred to as desmoid fibromatosis.4-6

Desmoid tumors are very rare

ABOUT

3%

of soft tissue tumors are desmoid tumors6,7

Mine grows and it takes over. I have a whole bunch of empty spaces because they had to take out a bunch of muscle. I just wish that there was something that explained it easily.

Amy, patient with a desmoid tumor

Amy smiling

Who gets desmoid tumors?

There are approximately 1000 to 1650 annual cases in the United States8-10

Most patients are diagnosed between 20 and 44 years of age9

Women are approximately 2 to 3 times more likely than men to be diagnosed2,9,11

Recent pregnancy, injury, or surgery may increase risk of developing a desmoid tumor12,13

Patients with a family history of familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) have an approximately 850-fold higher risk of developing desmoid tumors than the general population14

Desmoid Tumors: Symptoms

While some people may not feel a thing, the tumor and its “tendril-like” growths may wrap around nearby structures, causing pain (often neuropathic, which is a nerve problem that causes pain), changes to body shape and physical function, limited range of motion, sleep changes, shortness of breath, and fatigue.6,15 While these are some of the physical effects you may experience when living with a desmoid tumor, remember that these effects can be different for each person, often depending on the location of your tumor.16

Desmoid Tumor Symptoms can include12,13:

  • Pain
  • Limited range of motion
  • Fatigue
  • Impaired mobility
  • And more

Desmoid tumors can grow quickly, slowly, or sometimes not at all, but will not metastasize or spread to other parts of the body. In rare cases, they may even go away on their own.6 However, you may have heard desmoid tumors described as locally aggressive or invasive. This means that their “tendril-like” growths can attach to and wrap around surrounding tissues and structures.16 As tumors grow, they can put pressure on blood vessels and nerves, or on important organs like your intestines or lungs.5,6

I try to educate people that I look fine, I do. But you don’t see what’s on the inside.

Brad, patient with a desmoid tumor

Brad smiling

In rare instances, desmoid tumors can be life-threatening depending on where they are located, how they grow, and your overall health.17,18 However, building a care team with the right specialists can help you get the best care for your specific needs. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your doctor about the location of your tumor and symptoms you may be experiencing.

It wasn’t until after I failed on several treatments that I realized this was serious. That’s when I started doing my own research.

Brad, patient with a desmoid tumor

Brad in front of bleachers

Living with a desmoid tumor

Living with a desmoid tumor can feel uncertain. It can lead to anxiety and depression.19 Sometimes, it may even feel like the tumor and its “tendril-like” growths are taking over your whole life—not just physically, but emotionally, socially, and even professionally.15,20 The first step you can take is to learn everything that you can. This way, you can feel more in control of your condition. Consider sharing resources you find helpful, so others can understand the disease, too.

UNDERSTANDING DESMOID TUMORS

View the video to help clear the way for a new understanding of desmoid tumors and what it’s like living with them every day.

Desmoid tumors can show up in different places

It’s difficult to predict where and how desmoid tumors will show up. And each location can have different symptoms associated with it. For some people, the pain and symptom burden can lead to anxiety and depression.15,21 Other people frequently report concern around altered appearance, nerve pain, and decreased range of motion. Quality of life can be impacted by fear, difficulty sleeping, and apprehension about a lack of knowledge among healthcare professionals.15

Different tumor locations can lead to different symptoms

Because each tumor is unique, the symptoms and burdens that come with it can be just as unique.

Locations

Likelihood6

Potential Symptoms and Complications

Intra-abdominal

20%

Blockage of the intestines, ureters, or arteries in the digestive system, pain, muscle wasting and weight loss, malaise (general discomfort), or abdominal swelling6,22,23

Abdomen (belly)

16%

Invasion of the bladder or compression of reproductive organs such as the fallopian tubes, causing them to become swollen and fluid-filled6,22

Legs and Feet

16%

Limited movement, pain, muscle stiffness, or deformity6,24

Chest

15%

Shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, infiltration of the membranes surrounding the lungs, rib or spinal involvement, bone erosion, or pain6,22,25,26

Arms and Hands

14%

Restricted movement, pain, muscle and ligament involvement, limb weakness, or deformity6,27

Head and Neck

8%

Pain, neurologic deficit, wrapping and restriction of vital structures like the airway or blood vessels that can become life-threatening6,28

Other

11%

Symptoms and complications are dependent on the tumor location6,15,18

There can be a lot of uncertainty when it comes to having desmoid tumors. Having the right care team by your side can help you feel more confident about your journey and the treatment decisions you make together.

  1. Data on file. SpringWorks Therapeutics.
  2. Penel N, Coindre JM, Bonvalot S, et al. Management of desmoid tumours: a nationwide survey of labelled reference centre networks in France. Eur J Cancer. 2016;58:90-96.
  3. NIH. National Cancer Institute. NCI dictionary of cancer terms: desmoid tumor. Accessed April 16, 2022. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/expand/D.
  4. NIH. National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research. Desmoid tumor. Accessed April 14, 2022. https://www.cancer.gov/pediatric-adult-rare-tumor/rare-tumors/rare-soft-tissue-tumors/desmoid-tumor.
  5. Cancer.Net. Desmoid tumor: symptoms and signs. Accessed April 16, 2022. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/desmoid-tumor/symptoms-and-signs.
  6. Constantinidou A, Scurr M, Judson I, Litchman C. Clinical presentation of desmoid tumors. In: Litchman C, ed. Desmoid Tumors. Springer; 2012:chap 2. Accessed May 1, 2022. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/226455135.
  7. Cancer.Net. Desmoid tumor: statistics. Accessed April 15, 2022. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/desmoid-tumor/statistics.
  8. Orphanet Report Series: Rare Diseases Collection. Prevalence and incidence of rare diseases: bibliographic data. Number 1, January 2022. Accessed April 28, 2022. https://www.orpha.net/orphacom/cahiers/docs/GB/Prevalence_of_rare_diseases_by_alphabetical_list.pdf.
  9. van Broekhoven DLM, Grünhagen DJ, den Bakker MA, van Dalen T, Verhoef C. Time trends in the incidence and treatment of extra-abdominal and abdominal aggressive fibromatosis: a population-based study. Ann Surg Oncol. 2015;22(9):2817-2823.
  10. U.S. Department of Commerce. News Blog. U.S. population estimated at 332,403,650 on Jan. 1, 2022. Accessed April 28, 2022. https://www.commerce.gov/news/blog/2022/01/us-population-estimated-332403650-jan-1-2022.
  11. Skubitz KM. Biology and treatment of aggressive fibromatosis or desmoid tumor. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017;92(6):947-964.
  12. Lopez R, Kemalyan N, Moseley HS, Dennis D, Vetto RM. Problems in diagnosis and management of desmoid tumors. Am J Surg. 1990;159(5):450-453.
  13. Fiore M, Coppola S, Cannell AJ, et al. Desmoid-type fibromatosis and pregnancy: a multi-institutional analysis of recurrence and obstetric risk. Ann Surg. 2014;259(5):973-978.
  14. Gurbuz AK, Giardiello FM, Petersen GM, et al. Desmoid tumours in familial adenomatous polyposis. Gut. 1994;35(3):377-381.
  15. Gounder MM, Maddux L, Paty J, Atkinson TM. Prospective development of a patient-reported outcomes instrument for desmoid tumors or aggressive fibromatosis. Cancer. 2020;126(3):531-539. 
  16. Kasper B, Baumgarten C, Garcia J, et al. Desmoid Working Group. An update on the management of sporadic desmoid-type fibromatosis: a European Consensus Initiative between Sarcoma PAtients EuroNet (SPAEN) and European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC)/Soft Tissue and Bone Sarcoma Group (STBSG). Ann Oncol. 2017;28(10):2399-2408.
  17. Penel N, Chibon F, Salas S. Adult desmoid tumors: biology, management and ongoing trials. Curr Opin Oncol. 2017;29(4):268-274.
  18. Joglekar SB, Rose PS, Sim F, Okuno S, Petersen I. Current perspectives on desmoid tumors: the Mayo Clinic approach. Cancers (Basel). 2011;3(3):3143-3155.
  19. Ingley KM, Klein R, Theobalds N, et al. High prevalence of persistent emotional distress in desmoid tumor. Psycho-Oncology. 2020;29(2):311-320.
  20. Timbergen MJM, van de Poll-Franse LV, Grünhagen DJ, et al. Identification and assessment of health-related quality of life issues in patients with sporadic desmoid-type fibromatosis: a literature review and focus group study. Qual Life Res. 2018;27(12):3097-3111.
  21. Husson O, Younger E, Dunlop A, et al. Desmoid fibromatosis through the patients’ eyes: time to change the focus and organisation of care? Support Care Cancer. 2019;27(3):965-980.
  22. Shinagare AB, Ramaiya NH, Jagannathan JP, et al. A to Z of desmoid tumors. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2011;197(6):W1008-W1014.
  23. Tchangai BK, Tchaou M, Alassani F, et al. Giant abdominopelvic desmoid tumour herniated trough perineum: a case report. J Surg Case Rep. 2021;2021(8):rjab295. doi:10.1093/jscr/rjab295. 
  24. McDonald ES, Yi ES, Wenger DE. Best cases from the AFIP: extraabdominal desmoid-type fibromatosis. Radiographics. 2008;28(3):901-906.
  25. Abrão FC, Waisberg DR, Fernandez A, et al. Desmoid tumors of the chest wall: surgical challenges and possible risk factors. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2011;66(4):705-708.
  26. Xie Y, Xie K, Gou Q, He J, Zhong L, Wang Y. Recurrent desmoid tumor of the mediastinum: a case report. Oncol Lett. 2014;8(5):2276-2278.
  27. Scaramussa FS, Castro UB. Desmoid tumor in hand: a case report. SM J Orthop. 2016;2(3):1036.
  28. Baranov E, Hornick JL. Soft tissue special issue: fibroblastic and myofibroblastic neoplasms of the head and neck. Head Neck Pathol. 2020;14(1):43-58. 
  29. Braschi-Amirfarzan M, Keraliya AR, Krajewski KM, et al. Role of Imaging in Management of Desmoid-type Fibromatosis: A Primer for Radiologists. Radiographics. 2016;36(3):767-782.