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Premonitory Pain Preceding Swelling: A Distinctive Clinical Presentation of Synovial Sarcoma which may Prompt Early Detection

Purpose: The aim of this paper is to document the unusual presentation of long-standing pain at the tumour site before development of a swelling in patients with synovial sarcoma.

Patients/methods and results: The clinical presentation of 53 patients with synovial sarcoma was compared with 56 randomly selected patients with other sarcomas of the trunk and extremities. The two groups were similar with regard to age (P = 0.980), sex (P = 0.784) duration of symptoms (P = 0.697), size (P = 0.931) and site of tumour (P = 0.288). Sixteen (30.2%) patients with synovial sarcoma had pain before development of a swelling compared to two (3.6%) patients with other sarcomas (P < 0.001, odds ratio = 11.68, 95% confidence interval 2.53, 53.83). The mean duration of such pain was 37 months (median 24, range 6–120 months). The nature of the pain was variable. Eight patients had sharply localised tenderness. Calcification seen in the X-rays of four patients was initially misdiagnosed as benign lesions. A swelling was ultimately detected by MRI, CT, ultrasound or at physical examination. The mean duration from first presentation with pain till diagnosis of synovial sarcoma was 20 months. In three patients, at explorative surgery there was friable, vascular or necrotic tissue in the absence of a well-defined tumour mass.

Discussion: The occurrence of long-standing pain at the tumour site prior to development of a swelling is significantly more common with synovial sarcomas than with other sarcomas. Awareness of this unusual presentation and appropriate investigation may enable detection of synovial sarcoma at a prognostically favourable early stage.