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About Soft-Tissue Sarcoma

Soft-tissue sarcomas are tumors that can happen in many different tissues in the body. Most soft-tissue sarcomas begin in the arms, legs, or the body wall.

Types of Soft-Tissue Sarcoma

Here are some of the soft-tissue sarcomas we diagnose and treat at Huntsman Cancer Institute and Primary Children’s Hospital:

  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) usually forms in the stomach or small intestine.
  • Kaposi sarcoma can form in the skin, mucous membranes, lymph nodes, and other organs.
  • Leiomyosarcoma most commonly forms in the uterus. It can also form in the bladder or gastrointestinal system.
  • Liposarcoma can happen in fat cells in any part of the body. It usually forms in the arms, legs, or belly.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common type of soft tissue sarcoma in children.
  • Vascular tumors form from cells that make blood vessels or lymph vessels.

Signs & Symptoms

People usually first notice a painless lump, bump, or swelling in an arm or leg that lasts longer than 2 weeks. Sometimes there is pain from the lump pushing on nerves or stretching muscles.

It is important for specialized sarcoma doctors such as our team to evaluate lumps and bumps that could be sarcomas.

Learn more about soft-tissue sarcoma from the National Cancer Institute.

Image of the Soft Tissues of the Body

Soft-tissue sarcoma forms in soft tissues of the body, including muscle, tendons, fat, blood vessels, lymph vessels, nerves, and tissue around joints.
Soft-tissue sarcoma forms in soft tissues of the body, including muscle, tendons, fat, blood vessels, lymph vessels, nerves, and tissue around joints.

Specialties & Treatments

The treatment or combination of treatments each patient has depends on the stage of the soft-tissue sarcoma, what the care team recommends, and the patient’s wishes. Our entire team of sarcoma experts has weekly conferences where they work together on the best treatment plan for each patient.

  • Surgery. Sarcoma doctors who specialize in bone and muscle surgery treat most suspected soft-tissue sarcomas at Huntsman Cancer Institute or Primary Children's Hospital.
    • General surgeons expert in sarcoma care treat patients with a sarcoma in or near the stomach and intestines.
    • Women’s cancer surgeons care for women who have a soft-tissue sarcoma in the female organs.
  • Radiation. Many patients with soft-tissue sarcomas get radiation treatment, as well as surgery. Huntsman Cancer Institute’s cancer doctors who specialize in radiation treatment provide expert care. Radiation treatment is available at Huntsman Cancer Institute and our clinics in South Jordan and Farmington.
  • Chemotherapy. Also called “chemo,” this treatment uses strong drugs to treat cancer or help lessen symptoms. It can destroy cancer cells, stop them from spreading, and slow their growth. Most people with soft-tissue sarcoma do not get chemotherapy, unless the cancer has spread to another part of the body.

Learn more about types of cancer treatments and cancer screenings.

Find a Soft-Tissue Sarcoma Doctor

Causes & Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean you are sure to get cancer. It means your chances are higher than the average person’s. Talk with your doctor to learn more about your cancer risk.

These are risk factors for getting soft-tissue sarcoma:

  • Family history of any of the following:
  • Sarcoma
    • Retinoblastoma
    • Neurofibromatosis type 1
    • Tuberous sclerosis
    • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
    • Werner syndrome
    • Nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome
  • Previous radiation treatment
  • Previous exposure to radiation
  • Exposure to specific chemicals such as Thorotrast, vinyl chloride, or arsenic
  • Swelling in the arms and legs (lymphedema) for a long period of time

Learn more about ways to prevent cancer and about family history and genetic counseling.

Diagnosis & Stages

Diagnosis of Soft-Tissue Sarcoma

Doctors use these tests to diagnose soft-tissue sarcoma:

  • Imaging: Your care team takes special images such as x-rays, CT scans, and MRI to look at the suspected sarcoma.
  • Biopsy:Your care team removes cell or tissue samples to look at them under a microscope and check for signs of cancer.

Stages of Soft-Tissue Sarcoma

Cancer stages show whether cancer has spread within the soft tissue or to other parts of the body. Cancer spreads in the body in three ways: through tissue, the lymph system, or the blood. Sarcoma usually spreads by growing into nearby tissues or through the blood to the lungs.

These are the general stages used for soft tissue sarcoma:

  • Localized: The cancer has not grown beyond its beginning position.
  • Regionally advanced: The sarcoma has grown large enough to invade surrounding tissues or spread to nearby lymph nodes. This happens only in a few types of sarcoma.
  • Metastatic: The sarcoma has spread to a distant part of the body, usually the lungs.

When cancer spreads from where it started to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. These metastatic cancer cells are the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if soft tissue sarcoma spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually soft tissue sarcoma cells. The disease is metastatic soft tissue sarcoma, not lung cancer.

Learn more about the stages of soft tissue sarcoma from the National Cancer Institute.

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