For more information, call: 573-331-3000

A-Z Health Topics


Return to Index

Soft Tissue Sarcoma

(Alveolar Soft Part Sarcoma; Angiosarcoma; Dermatofibrosarcoma Protuberans; Desmoid Sarcoma; Fibrosarcoma; Leiomyosarcoma; Liposarcoma; Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma; Lymphoma (lymphosarcoma); Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor; Rhabdomyosarcoma; Synovial Sarcoma)

Definition

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.

Causes

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.
Cancer Growth
Cancer Cell Division
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

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
    • Dioxin
  • Exposure to radiation, including therapeutic, diagnostic, and accidental
  • History of angiosarcoma of the liver
  • Weak or poorly functioning immune system, including having an HIV infection
  • Certain inherited diseases, such as:

Symptoms

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

Diagnosis

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

Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer as well as the type.
Treatments may include:

Surgery

Surgery requires removal of the cancerous tumor and nearby tissue, and possibly nearby lymph nodes.

Radiation Therapy

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

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, such as where chemotherapy is a standard offer and contributes significantly to cure or when the treatment is designed to slow the pace of the disease but is not considered a cure.
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, such as where chemotherapy is a standard offer and contributes significantly to cure or when the treatment is designed to slow the pace of the disease but is not considered a cure.

Prevention

There are no guidelines for preventing soft tissue sarcoma because the exact cause is unknown.

RESOURCES

American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org

National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca

Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

References

Sarcoma: Adult soft tissue cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003138-pdf.pdf. Accessed September 29, 2014.

Soft tissue sarcoma. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/soft-tissue-sarcoma. Accessed September 29, 2014.

Revision Information