About Soft Tissue Sarcoma

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About Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Soft tissue sarcoma is a disease in which cancerous cells form in the soft tissues of the body.

Signs & Symptoms

These are signs of soft tissue sarcoma:

  • Lump or swelling of soft tissue in the body
  • Pain or trouble breathing

Many other health problems can also cause these signs. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

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

Image of the Soft Tissues of the Body

anatomical drawing of the body's soft tissues

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, recommendations of the care team, and the patient’s wishes. These are the most common types of treatment for soft tissue sarcoma: 

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Sarcoma Service specializes in diagnosing and treating cancers of the bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, and soft tissues in people of all ages.

Learn more about types of cancer treatments and cancer screenings.

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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:

  • Inherited disorders
    • Retinoblastoma
    • Neurofibromatosis type 1
    • Tuberous sclerosis
    • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
    • Werner syndrome
    • Nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome
  • Previous radiation treatment
  • Exposure to specific chemicals such as Thorotrast, vinyl chloride, or arsenic
  • Excessive swelling in the arms and legs 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:

  • Laboratory tests: By testing body tissues, blood, urine, or other substances in the body, your health care team can check to see how the organs are functioning. They can also look for substances that cells produce when cancer is present.
  • Biopsy: The health care provider removes cell or tissue samples so they can be viewed under a microscope to 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.

These are the stages used for soft tissue sarcoma:

  • Stage I (IA & IB): The tumor is low-grade (likely to grow and spread slowly).
  • Stage II (IIA & IIB): The tumor is mid-grade (somewhat likely to grow and spread quickly).
  • Stage III: The tumor is either high-grade (likely to grow and spread quickly) or has spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage IV: The tumor is any grade, any size, but has spread to distant parts of the body such as 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 liver, the cancer cells in the liver are actually soft tissue sarcoma cells. The disease is metastatic soft tissue sarcoma, not liver cancer.

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