Soft tissue sarcoma is growth of cancer cells in soft tissue. Soft tissue includes muscles, tendons, connective tissue, fat, blood vessels, nerves, and joint tissue. There are many types of soft tissue sarcoma.
Cancer happens when cells divide without control or order. These cells grow together to form a tumor. They can invade and damage nearby tissues. They can also spread to other parts of the body.
It is not clear what causes changes in the cells. It is likely a combination of genes and environment.
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Soft tissue sarcoma is more common in adults over 55 years old. However, it can occur at any age. Things that may raise the risk are:
Certain genetic syndromes, such as:
- Past radiation to the area
- Weak immune system
Exposure to certain chemicals such as:
- Chemicals in herbicides and wood preservatives
In the early stages, a sarcoma is small and does not cause symptoms. Symptoms occur as the tumor grows.
The most common symptom is a lump or swelling. It 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—belly pain, vomiting, and problems passing stool
- Uterus—bleeding from the vagina and pain in the pelvis or lower belly
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.
Imaging tests will help locate tumors. They may include:
Abiopsy will be done. A sample of tissue will be taken and tested. The biopsy can confirm the diagnosis.
The exam and test results will be used for staging. This will outline how far and fast the cancer has spread.
The goal is to remove the cancer. Treatment depends on the type and stage of the cancer. A combination of treatments may be used. Options may include:
- Surgery to remove the tumor, nearby tissue, and possibly some lymph nodes
- Externalor internal radiation therapy—to kill cancer cells and shrink the tumor
- Chemotherapy by mouth, injection, or IV—to kill cancer cells
There are no current guidelines for preventing soft tissue sarcoma.
Bourcier K, Le Cesne A, et al. Basic knowledge in soft tissue sarcoma. Cardiovasc Intervent Radiol. 2019;42(9):1255-1261.
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. Accessed March 18, 2021.
Soft tissue sarcoma. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/soft-tissue-sarcoma.html. Accessed March 18, 2021.
Soft tissue sarcomas. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/soft-tissue-sarcomas. Accessed March 18, 2021.
Last reviewed January 2021 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 3/18/2021