Sarcoma (Soft Tissue Tumors)
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, in this case, soft tissue cells, divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors, which can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor usually does not invade or spread.
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The exact cause of soft tissue sarcoma is not known.
Factors that increase your risk for getting 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
- Weak or poorly functioning immune system, including having an HIV infection
- Certain inherited diseases, such as:
- Li-Fraumeni syndrome
- Tuberous sclerosis
- Gardner's syndrome
- Werner syndrome
- Gorlin syndrome
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.
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
Your bodily tissues may be tested. This can be done with a biopsy, which can confirm the diagnosis.
After a sarcoma is found, staging tests are performed to find out if the cancer has spread and, if so, to what extent. 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 (or Radiotherapy)
Radiation therapy (or radiotherapy) 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, 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.
There are no guidelines for preventing soft tissue sarcoma because the exact cause is unknown.
Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.