Soft Tissue Sarcoma: Treatment Introduction

There are many treatment choices for soft tissue sarcoma. Which may work best for you? It depends on a number of factors. These include the type, size, location, and stage (extent) of your sarcoma. Factors also include your age, overall health, and what side effects you’ll find acceptable.

Learning about your treatment options

You may have questions and concerns about your treatment options. You may also want to know how you’ll feel and function after treatment, and if you’ll have to change your normal activities.

Your healthcare provider is the best person to answer your questions. He or she can tell you what your treatment choices are, how successful they’re expected to be, and what the risks and side effects are. Your healthcare provider may advise a specific treatment. Or he or she may offer more than one, and ask you to decide which one you’d like to use. It can be hard to make this decision. It’s important to take the time you need to make the best decision.

Deciding on the best plan may take some time. Talk with your healthcare provider about how much time you can take to explore your options. You may want to get another opinion before deciding on your treatment plan. In fact, some insurance companies may require a second opinion. You may also want to involve your family and friends in this process.

Understanding the goals of treatment for soft tissue sarcoma

For many soft tissue sarcomas, the goal of treatment is to cure the cancer. If cure isn’t possible, treatment may be used to shrink the cancer or keep it under control. Treatment can also improve your quality of life by helping to control the symptoms of the disease. The goals of treatment can include one or more of these things:

  • Remove or destroy the main tumor

  • Remove or destroy tumors in other parts of the body

  • Stop or slow the growth or spread of cancer cells

  • Prevent or delay the cancer's return

  • Ease symptoms from the cancer, such as pain or pressure on organs

Types of treatment for soft tissue sarcoma

Several types of treatment can be used for soft tissue sarcoma. Different combinations of treatment may be used. These depend on the stage of the cancer and other factors. Each treatment has its own goals.

Surgery

Surgery is often the main treatment for soft tissue sarcomas. The goal of surgery is to remove the whole tumor or as much of it as possible. At the same time, the goal is to preserve as much as possible of the affected body part in order to maintain normal function. In most cases, the size of the tumor and whether it’s invaded nearby structures determines what type of treatment you’ll have. Tumors larger than a certain size will most likely also be treated with radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy, either before or after surgery.

Radiation therapy

This is also called radiotherapy. The goal of this treatment is to kill cancer cells using powerful energy from radiation beams or other sources. This treatment may be used to shrink a tumor before surgery. Or it may be used to kill cancer cells that are left after surgery. Radiation may be used before, during, and/or after surgery.

Chemotherapy (chemo)

The goal of this treatment is to use medicines to destroy sarcoma cells. In most cases, healthcare providers inject chemo medicines into your body through a vein. The blood then carries the medicines throughout your body, killing cancer cells. Less often, healthcare providers inject medicines right into the blood vessels around the tumor. That method isn’t yet standard. You may receive chemo before or after surgery. In the case of metastatic disease (where cancer has spread into other parts of the body), chemo may be used alone.

Targeted therapy

This treatment uses medicines that attack specific parts of cancer cells. They can help treat certain types of soft tissue sarcomas, usually if other treatments are no longer working. Most of the time, you take these medicines each day as pills. 

Supportive care

Your healthcare provider may suggest treatments that help ease your symptoms, but don’t treat the cancer. These can sometimes be used with other treatments. Or your healthcare provider may suggest supportive care if he or she believes that treatments are more likely to do you more harm than good.

Experts are also studying other treatments. These include some that could help the body's immune system fight cancer.

Clinical trials for new treatments

Researchers are always looking for new ways to treat soft tissue sarcoma. These new methods are tested in clinical trials. Talk with your healthcare provider to find out if there are any clinical trials you should consider.

Talking with your healthcare provider

At first, thinking about treatment options may seem overwhelming. Talk with your healthcare providers, nurses, and loved ones. Make a list of questions. Consider the benefits and side effects of each option. Talk about your concerns with your healthcare provider before making a decision.