Sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that occurs in the connective tissues, a group of tissues that connect and support other tissues and body organs. It affects the blood vessels, tendons, fat, nerves, bones, cartilage and muscles. There are many different types called subtypes. According to the American Cancer Society, there are at least 50 different subtypes. Soft tissue sarcomas invade cartilage, tendons, muscles and blood vessels. Osteosarcoma is found in the bones and is the rarest type.
There are common types of soft tissue sarcoma in adults including undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma, liposarcoma, and leiomyosarcoma. Some other types of sarcoma are liposarcoma and rhabdomyosarcoma.
Because soft tissue sarcoma is rare and there are many subtypes, it can be difficult to diagnose.
Soft tissue sarcoma risk factors:
- Radiation exposure from other cancer treatment
- Family cancer syndromes (disorders caused by gene defects (mutations) that people are born with (often inherited from a parent) that are linked to a high risk of getting certain cancers)
- Damaged lymph system
Symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma:
- A painless lump, that might compress muscles and nerves as it increases in size causing discomfort
- Worsening abdominal pain
- Uncomfortable swelling
- blood in your stool or vomit
- Limited mobility
Tests for diagnosis of soft tissue sarcoma:
- Imaging tests such as an x-ray, CT scan, PET scan, ultrasound or MRI
Treatment of soft tissue sarcoma:
- Surgery – Surgery is commonly used to treat soft tissue sarcomas. Depending on the site and size of a sarcoma, surgery might be able to remove the cancer. The goal of surgery is to remove the entire tumor along with at least 1 to 2 cm (less than an inch) of the normal tissue around it. This is to make sure that no cancer cells are left behind.
- Radiation Therapy – Most of the time radiation is given after surgery. This is called adjuvant treatment. It’s done to kill any cancer cells that may be left behind after surgery. Radiation can affect wound healing, so it may not be started until a month or so after surgery. Radiation may also be used before surgery to shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove. This is called neoadjuvant treatment. Radiation can be the main treatment for sarcoma in someone who isn’t healthy enough to have surgery. Radiation therapy can also be used to help ease symptoms of sarcoma when it has spread. This is called palliative treatment.
- Chemotherapy – Depending on the type and stage of sarcoma, chemotherapy may be given as the main treatment or as an adjuvant (addition) to surgery. Different types of sarcoma respond better to chemo than others and also respond to different types of chemo. Chemotherapy for soft tissue sarcoma generally uses a combination of several anti-cancer drugs.
- Targeted Therapy – Targeted therapy uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack sarcoma cells while doing little damage to normal cells. These therapies attack parts of cancer cells that make them different from normal, healthy cells. Each type of targeted therapy works differently, but all of them affect the way a cancer cell grows, divides, repairs itself, or interacts with other cells. Targeted therapy is an important part of treatment for many kinds of cancer. As doctors learn more about the biology of sarcoma cells, targeted therapy is becoming another treatment option for this cancer, too.