Soft tissue sarcoma is a disease in which cancer cells are found in soft tissue in the body. Soft tissue includes muscles, tendons, connective tissue, fat, blood vessels, nerves, and joint tissue. There are many types of soft tissue sarcoma.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues including the lymph nodes. Cancer that has invaded the lymph nodes can then spread to other parts of the body.
It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.
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Factors that may increase your risk of soft tissue sarcoma include:
Exposure to certain types of chemicals such as:
- Chemicals in herbicides and wood preservatives
- Polycyclic hydrocarbons
- Exposure to radiation, including therapeutic, diagnostic, and accidental
- History of angiosarcoma of the liver
- Suppressed immune system
- Certain inherited diseases, such as:
In the early stages, a sarcoma is small and does not produce symptoms. As the tumor grows, it may push aside normal body structures, causing symptoms.
The most common symptom of a sarcoma is a lump or swelling that may or may not be painful. Symptoms vary, depending on the part of the body that is affected. For example, tumors found in the following areas of the body may develop these symptoms:
- Arm, leg, or trunk—uncomfortable swelling in the affected limb
- Chest—cough and breathlessness
- Abdomen—abdominal pain, vomiting, and constipation
- Uterus—bleeding from the vagina and pain in the pelvis or lower abdomen
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Imaging tests that evaluate bodily structures include:
A biopsy can confirm the diagnosis.
The physical exam, combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the type and stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, soft tissue sarcoma is staged from I-IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer, while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body.
Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer as well as the type.
Treatments may include:
Surgery requires removal of the cancerous tumor and nearby tissue, and possibly nearby lymph nodes.
Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. When a sarcoma is aggressive, the surgeon will remove as much of it as possible. Adding radiation will significantly reduce the chances of the cancer coming back. Radiation may be:
- External radiation therapy—radiation directed at the tumor from a source outside the body
- Internal radiation therapy—radioactive materials placed into the body near the cancer cells
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given in many forms, including: pill, injection, or by catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells. Chemotherapy is generally reserved for only certain types of sarcomas. In some cancers, it may be used as treatment that leads to a cure. In other types, it may be used to slow the spread of cancer and ease symptoms without leading to a cure.
There are no current guidelines for preventing soft tissue sarcoma because the exact cause is unknown.
American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org
National Cancer Institute https://www.cancer.gov
General information about adult soft tissue sarcoma. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/soft-tissue-sarcoma/patient/adult-soft-tissue-treatment-pdq. Updated May 15, 2017. Accessed October 9, 2017.
Soft tissue sarcoma. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/soft-tissue-sarcoma.html. Accessed October 9, 2017.
Soft tissue sarcomas. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T913134/Soft-tissue-sarcomas . Updated June 6, 2017. Accessed October 9, 2017.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 09/2018
- Update Date: 05/28/2014