Soft Tissue Sarcoma

What is a soft tissue sarcoma?

A soft tissue sarcoma is a growth of abnormal cells that form tumors in the soft tissues of your body, such as muscle, connective tissue, or fat. This kind of cancer can grow in the soft tissue of any part of your body. It often grows in the legs or arms. It is unusual and occurs equally in men and women.

Sarcomas tend to spread through the bloodstream to other parts of your body, usually the lungs.

The sooner cancer is found and treated, the better your chances for recovery. However, even advanced cancer can usually be treated. Treatment may slow or stop the growth of the cancer and ease symptoms for a time. Ask your healthcare provider what you can expect with the type of cancer that you have.

What is the cause?

The cause of sarcomas is not known. However, people who have had other types of cancer in the past seem to have a greater risk of developing a sarcoma. In rare cases, radiation treatment when you were young leads to sarcoma in the same area. One type of skin sarcoma, called Kaposi’s sarcoma, is common in people with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

What are the symptoms?

The most common sign of sarcoma is a lump. Depending on the site of the cancer, it may or may not cause pain.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history, including symptoms and possible risk factors, and you will have a physical exam. You may have tests such as:

  • X-rays
  • CT scan, which uses X-rays and a computer to show detailed pictures of the tissues
  • MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of the tissues
  • Biopsy, which uses a needle passed through the skin to take a small sample of tissue for testing.

How is it treated?

You and your healthcare provider will discuss possible treatments. You may also talk with a surgeon and a cancer specialist. Some things to think about when making treatment decisions are:

  • Your age
  • Your overall health
  • The stage of the cancer (how advanced the cancer is)
  • Whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body

Possible treatments are:

  • Chemotherapy (anticancer drugs), which uses medicine to kill cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells.
  • Surgery, which removes cancer cells

Your treatment will also include:

  • Preventing infections
  • Controlling pain or other symptoms you may be having
  • Controlling the side effects from treatments
  • Helping you manage your life with cancer

Often, more than 1 treatment is used. After treatment, soft tissue sarcomas can come back. You will need to have regular follow-up visits with your healthcare provider.

Ask your healthcare provider about clinical trials that might be available to you. Clinical trials are research studies to find effective cancer treatments. It’s always your choice whether you take part in one or not.

How can I take care of myself?

If you have been diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma:

  • Talk about your cancer and treatment options with your healthcare provider. Make sure you understand your choices.
  • Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • Ask your healthcare provider:
    • How and when you will hear your test results
    • How long it will take to recover
    • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
  • Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

Other things that may help include:

  • Eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise and rest.
  • Try to reduce stress and take time for activities that you enjoy. It may help to talk with a counselor about your illness.
  • Talk with your family and your healthcare providers about your concerns. Ask your healthcare provider any questions you have about the disease, treatments, side effects of the treatments, sexuality, support groups, and anything else that concerns you.
  • If you smoke, try to quit.
  • Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol. It may interfere with medicines you are taking. Alcohol can also make it harder for white blood cells to fight infections.
  • Tell your provider if your treatment causes discomfort. Usually there are ways to help you be more comfortable.

How can I help prevent the cancer spreading or coming back?

  • Complete the full course of surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy treatments ordered by your healthcare provider.
  • See your healthcare provider right away if you notice a return of any previous symptoms, or you develop new symptoms.

For more information, contact:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-06-14
Last reviewed: 2014-06-09
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

Patient Portal

Our Patient Portal provides safe and secure online access to better communicate with your Tufts Medical Center Community Care doctor. This easy-to-use web tool is a convenient way to book appointments, request referrals, renew prescriptions, view medical records/test results and communicate with your healthcare provider from the privacy of your own computer.

PATIENT PORTAL >