Folk Singer Kate McGarrigle Dies of Rare Cancer

Canadian folk music singer-songwriter, Kate McGarrigle, who wrote and performed as a duo with her sister Anna McGarrigle has died of a rare cancer called clear cell sarcoma. She was diagnosed with the disease in 2006.The 63 year old first came to attention in 1974 when Linda Ronstadt recorded their song Heart Like a Wheel as the title track for one of her albums. Other performers, such Emmylou Harris, Judy Collins and Elvis Costello also sang songs written by the McGarrigle sisters. Her short marriage to fellow folk  singer Loudon Wainwright III produced two children, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, both of whom followed in their parents’ footsteps to become singers in their own rights.

Sarcomas are malignant (cancerous) tumors that develop in tissues which connect, support, or surround other structures and organs of the body.

Clear cell sarcoma (CCS), sometimes called melanoma of the soft parts,  is a rare cancer that often develops in tendons of the arms or legs. Tendons and aponeuroses connect muscles to bones, and this tumor often arises in those structures. It tends to present as a mass in the lower extremities, usually occurs in the limbs, especially around the ankles. There are usually few symptoms until the lesion becomes large enough to cause localized pain. Occasionally, the tumor is close enough to the surface of the skin for patients to notice it early on, but generally it is not.

Under the microscope, CCS shares some features with malignant melanoma, a type of cancer that develops from pigment-producing skin cells. CCS can be distinguished from melanoma based on clinical presentation and by the test for a genetic abnormality sometimes associated with the diagnosis.

CCS can metastasize (spread) throughout the body and, like other soft tissue sarcomas, it commonly spreads to the lungs. It also frequently spreads to the lymph nodes surrounding the original site of the tumor. Like other sarcomas, the best chance to cure CCS is by cutting it all out surgically, although local or distant recurrences may still occur. CCS does grow more slowly than some other cancers, despite the fact that it is malignant and will spread if untreated.

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Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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