Soft Tissue Sarcomas
Soft tissue sarcomas are cancerous tumors that can grow in:
- Blood vessels
About half of all soft tissue sarcomas affect the arms and legs, while the rest appear in the head, neck and trunk areas.
More about soft tissue sarcomas
- Soft tissue sarcomas are rare, accounting for less than one percent of all diagnosed cancers per year, and fewer than 10,000 cases per year.
- Doctors distinguish soft tissue sarcomas based on where in the body they originate (begin to grow).
- Regardless of where they begin to grow, soft tissue sarcomas tend to present with similar characteristics and symptoms, and are treated the same way.
Types of sarcomas
- Fibrosarcoma. Develops from the tissues keeping bones, organs and muscles secure, and appears most often in the legs, arms and trunk.
- Hemangiosarcoma. Develops from the blood vessels in the arms, legs, head and trunk.
- Leiomyosarcoma. Develops from smooth muscles used to control the movement of internal organs and blood vessels. These tumors tend to affect adults.
- Liposarcoma. Develops from fatty tissues, and appears most often in the legs and trunk.
- Lymphangiosarcoma. Develops from the lymph vessels, and appears in the arms. It tends to affect tissues that may have been exposed to radiation.
- Malignant fibrous histiocytoma. Develops within muscle or fat, most often in the thighs and trunk. It tends to affect older adults.
- Neurofibrosarcoma. Develops from nerves, and appears most often in the legs, arms and trunk.
- Rhabdomyosarcoma. Develops from skeletal muscles used to move bones. It tends to affect young children, and appears most often in the arms and legs.
- Synovial sarcoma. Develops from tissues that cushion the joints, such as knees and elbows. It tends to affect children and adolescents.
Certain conditions, as well as exposure to certain chemicals, put people at higher risk for developing soft tissue sarcomas. These include:
- Hereditary conditions, including a rare childhood eye cancer called inherited retinoblastoma, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Gardner’s syndrome, and a nerve tissue disorder called neurofibromatosis.
- Radiation exposure, specifically when used to treat other cancer types
- High dose chemical exposure to:
- Vinyl chloride, an ingredient in plastic
- Phenoxyacetic acid, an ingredient in certain herbicides
- Chlorophenols, an ingredient in wood preservatives
As the soft tissue sarcoma develops, patients may feel a lump.
These sarcomas often do not cause pain or swelling, so it is important to have a doctor examine any lump that lasts a long time to determine its cause.
Your doctor can detect the presence of a soft tissue sarcoma in the following ways:
- History and physical examination, which includes palpating (feeling) the tumor mass.
- Imaging Tests, which determine a tumor’s size, shape, location, as well as if a tumor is benign, or malignant. Imaging tests include:
- CT scan: scans the affected area from a variety of angles and creates a computer-generated detailed picture
- MRI: uses a magnet to create a detailed picture of the affected area
- PET scan: a doctor injects and then tracks radioactive glucose, creating a computer-generated detailed picture of the affected area
Learn more about our orthopaedic advanced imaging.
Diagnosis of orthopaedic cancer
After your exam, a diagnosis frequently must be confirmed by a biopsy. Your doctor will collect a tissue sample from the area to identify the exact nature of the tumor. Learn more about our minimally invasive biopsies for bone cancers.
After examining the results of one or more of these tests, your doctor can tell you if you have a soft tissue sarcoma.
We know a diagnosis of cancer brings anxiety and fear. Our doctors will answer all your questions about your condition, as well as plans for your treatment. Washington Cancer Institute offers patient support services for the newly diagnosed.
The primary types of treatment for soft tissue sarcomas include:
- Surgery, which removes the main tumor mass
- Chemotherapy, to shrink the tumor mass prior to surgery, or to treat or prevent spread to other areas
- Radiation, typically after surgery, to reduce the risk of the cancer returning after treatment
Many patients benefit from a combination of these treatment types. Each patient undergoes a thorough evaluation to determine the most effective course of treatment.