Soft Tissue Sarcoma
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Soft Tissue Sarcoma

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition

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 synovial (joint) tissue.

There are many types of soft tissue sarcoma, including: alveolar soft part sarcoma, angiosarcoma, dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, desmoid sarcoma, fibrosarcoma, leiomyosarcoma, liposarcoma, malignant fibrous histiocytoma, lymphoma (lymphosarcoma), malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor, rhabdomyosarcoma, and synovial sarcoma. Treatment will differ depending on the type of cancer and the location and size of the tumor.

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.

Cancer Growth

Cancer Cell Division

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Soft tissue sarcomas are relatively uncommon. Although they may be found in children, soft tissue sarcomas are more common in adults.

Causes

The exact cause of soft tissue sarcoma is not known.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.

Risk factors include:

  • Exposure to certain types of chemicals, such as:
    • Chemicals in herbicides and wood preservatives
    • Polycyclic hydrocarbons
    • Dioxin
  • 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:

Symptoms

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
  • Lung—cough and breathlessness
  • Bowel—abdominal pain, vomiting, and constipation
  • Uterus—bleeding from the vagina and pain in the pelvis or lower abdomen

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. The doctor may decide to order an x-ray or other tests if a tumor is suspected. However, the only way to confirm the diagnosis is with a biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of a sample of tissue from the affected area to be tested for cancer cells.

Treatment

Once 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

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 looking, 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

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 an osteosarcoma (where chemotherapy is a standard offer and contributes significantly to cure) or when the sarcoma has spread to other parts of the body (metastatic disease), wherein the treatment is designed to slow the pace of the disease but is not considered a curative.

Prevention

There are no guidelines for preventing soft tissue sarcoma because the exact cause is unknown.

RESOURCES:

American Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.org

National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health (NIH)
http://www.cancer.gov

The Washington Musculoskeletal Tumor Center
http://www.sarcoma.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.ca

ProCURE Alliance
http://www.procure.ca/english/index.html

References:

National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health (NIH) website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/ .



Last reviewed February 2008 by Rimas Lukas, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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