Definition

What is a soft tissue sarcoma?

Soft tissue sarcoma is a type of cancer that begins in the soft tissues of your body.

Soft tissues connect, support and surround other body structures. The soft tissues include muscle, fat, blood vessels, nerves, tendons and the lining of your joints.

Many types of soft tissue sarcoma exist. Some types are more likely to affect children, while others affect mostly adults.

Soft tissue sarcoma can occur anywhere in your body, but the most common types occur in the abdomen and in the arms and legs.

How common are soft tissue sarcomas?

Soft tissue sarcomas are not common. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma?

The common symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma are:

  • A noticeable lump or swelling
  • Pain, if a tumor presses on nerves or muscles

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes soft tissue sarcoma?

In most cases, it’s not clear what causes soft tissue sarcoma.

In general, cancer occurs when cells develop errors (mutations) in their DNA. The errors make cells grow and divide out of control. The accumulating abnormal cells form a tumor that can grow to invade nearby structures and spread to other parts of the body.

The type of cell that develops the genetic mutation determines what type of soft tissue sarcoma you have. Some types of soft tissue sarcoma include:

  • Alveolar soft part sarcoma
  • Angiosarcoma
  • Clear cell sarcoma
  • Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans
  • Desmoplastic small round cell tumor
  • Epithelioid hemangioendothelioma
  • Epithelioid sarcoma
  • Extrarenal rhabdoid tumor
  • Fibrosarcoma
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumor
  • Hemangiosarcoma
  • Infantile fibrosarcoma
  • Inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma
  • Leiomyosarcoma
  • Liposarcoma
  • Lymphangiosarcoma
  • Malignant fibrous histiocytoma
  • Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor
  • Myofibrosarcoma
  • Myxofibrosarcoma
  • Neurofibrosarcoma
  • Perivascular epitheliod cell tumor (PEComa)
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma
  • Synovial sarcoma
  • Undifferentiated, unclassified soft tissue sarcomas

Risk factors

What increases my risk for soft tissue sarcoma?

There are many risk factors for soft tissue sarcoma, such as:

  • Inherited syndromes. A risk of soft tissue sarcoma can be inherited from your parents. Genetic syndromes that increase your risk include hereditary retinoblastoma, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis, neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis and Werner syndrome.
  • Chemical exposure. Being exposed to certain chemicals, such as herbicides, arsenic and dioxin, may increase the risk of soft tissue sarcomas.
  • Radiation exposure. Previous radiation treatment for other cancers can increase the risk of soft tissue sarcomas.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is soft tissue sarcoma diagnosed?

A diagnosis of a soft tissue sarcoma will usually be made by a hospital specialist and will be based on your symptoms, a physical examination, and the results of:

  • Scans – an ultrasound scan is usually the first test performed and is fairly simple and quick; further scans such as magnetic resonance imaging (mri) scan may be performed later
  • A biopsy – where a sample of suspected cancerous tissue is removed using a needle or during an operation so it can be tested and analysed in a laboratory

If a diagnosis of a soft tissue sarcoma is confirmed, these and further tests will also help determine how likely the cancer is to spread (known as the “grade”), and whether or how far the cancer has spread (known as the “stage”).

How is soft tissue sarcoma treated?

People with a soft tissue sarcoma are cared for by a team of doctors and nurses at specialist centres, who will help decide on the most appropriate treatment.

The best treatment depends on things such as where the cancer developed, the type of sarcoma it is, how far it has spread, your age and your general health.

The main treatments are:

Surgery

Surgery is the main treatment for soft tissue sarcomas that are diagnosed at an early stage.

It usually involves removing the tumour along with a section of surrounding healthy tissue. This will help ensure no cancer cells are left behind.

Every effort will be made to reduce the impact of surgery on the appearance and function of the affected body part. But there is a chance you’ll have some difficulty using the affected body part after surgery and sometimes further surgery may be needed to repair it.

In a very small number of cases, there may be no option but to amputate the part of the body where the cancer is located, such as part of the leg.

Radiotherapy

In some sarcomas, radiotherapy is used before or after surgery to improve the chance of cure. This is carried out using a machine that directs beams of radiation at a small treatment area.

Radiotherapy alone may also sometimes be used when surgery is not possible, to reduce symptoms caused by the sarcoma or slow its progression.

Common side effects of radiotherapy include sore skin, tiredness and hair loss in the treatment area. These tend to get better within a few days or weeks of treatment finishing.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is very occasionally used before surgery to shrink a tumor and make it easier to remove. This involves being given anti-cancer medication directly into a vein (intravenously).

Chemotherapy may also be used alone or alongside radiotherapy for soft tissue sarcomas that can’t be surgically removed.

Common side effects of chemotherapy include feeling tired and weak all the time, feeling and being sick, and hair loss. These can be unpleasant but are usually temporary.

There are also other types of anti-cancer medications used to treat sarcoma that may be given as injections or tablets.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage soft tissue sarcoma?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with soft tissue sarcoma:

  • Learn enough about sarcoma to make decisions about your care. Ask your doctor about your soft tissue sarcoma, including your treatment options and, if you like, your prognosis. As you learn more about soft tissue sarcoma, you may become more confident in making treatment decisions.
  • Keep friends and family close. Keeping your close relationships strong will help you deal with your soft tissue sarcoma. Friends and family can provide the practical support you’ll need, such as helping take care of your house if you’re in the hospital. And they can serve as emotional support when you feel overwhelmed by cancer.
  • Find someone to talk with. Find a good listener who is willing to listen to you talk about your hopes and fears. This may be a friend or family member. The concern and understanding of a counselor, medical social worker, clergy member or cancer support group also may be helpful.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: September 14, 2017 | Last Modified: September 14, 2017

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