Soft Tissue Cancer

Soft tissue sarcoma is cancer that starts in the body’s soft tissues. Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are used to treat soft tissue sarcomas.

Soft Tissue Cancer Overview

Reviewed: May 22, 2014

Soft tissue sarcoma is a type of cancer that begins in the soft tissues of your body. Soft tissues connect, support, and surround other tissues and include muscle, fat, blood vessels, nerves, tendons, and the lining of your joints.

Soft tissue sarcoma can occur anywhere in your body and many types of soft tissue sarcoma exist. Both children and adults can develop soft tissue sarcoma.

Sarcomas are not common tumors, and most cancers are the type of tumors called carcinomas, which means that they develop from the epithelial tissues.

Soft tissue sarcomas are rare cancers and account for less than 1% of all cancers. Radiation therapy and certain diseases and inherited conditions can increase the risk of soft tissue sarcoma.

Signs of soft tissue sarcoma may include a lump or swelling in soft tissue, but sometimes there are no signs or symptoms until the tumor is big and presses on nearby nerves or other parts of the body. Treatment depends on the type and location of the sarcoma, but treatment options often include surgery to remove the tumor, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of therapies.

Soft Tissue Cancer Symptoms

A soft tissue sarcoma may not cause any signs and symptoms in its early stages. Symptoms also vary depending on the tumor’s location. See your health care provider right away if you notice any of the following signs or symptoms, which may indicate soft tissue sarcoma or another condition:

  • a noticeable lump or swelling
  • pain, if a tumor presses on nerves or muscles
  • blood in your stool or vomit
  • black, tarry stool

Soft Tissue Cancer Causes

In most cases, it is 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.

Soft Tissue Cancer Diagnosis

Tests and procedures used to diagnose soft tissue sarcoma include:

  • imaging tests. Imaging tests, such as X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET), may be used to evaluate the area of concern.
  • removing a sample of tissue for testing. Your doctor may perform a biopsy procedure to remove a sample of the suspected sarcoma for testing in a lab. To remove the sample, your doctor may use a long, thin needle. Sometimes a biopsy sample is removed during surgery.

Living With Soft Tissue Cancer

If you have or have had soft tissue sarcoma, you can take steps to manage the stress that accompanies the diagnosis.

  • Learn about the type of sarcoma you have so you can make informed decisions about your care.
  • Have a schedule of follow-up tests and go to each appointment.
  • Take care of yourself so that you are ready to fight cancer. This includes eating a healthy that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, exercising for at least 30 minutes most days of the week, and getting enough sleep so that you wake feeling rested.
  • Accept help and support from family and friends.

Soft Tissue Cancer Treatments

Treatment options for soft tissue sarcoma will depend on the size, type and location of your tumor. Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy may be used alone or in combination to treat soft tissue sarcoma.

Surgery. Surgery is a common treatment for soft tissue sarcoma and generally involves removing the cancer and some healthy tissue surrounding it.

Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy involves treating cancer with high-powered beams of energy, such as X-rays or protons. You may have radiation therapy before surgery to shrink a tumor to make it easier to remove with surgery. Radiation is also used after surgery to kill any cancer cells that remain.

Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered by pill, through a vein (intravenously), or both methods may be used. Common chemotherapy drugs for soft tissue sarcoma include:

Targeted drug treatment. Targeted drugs block specific abnormal signals present in sarcoma cells that allow them to grow. Targeted drugs used certain soft tissue sarcoma include:

Soft Tissue Cancer Prognosis