Soft Tissue Sarcoma

What is Soft Tissue Sarcoma?

The body consists of various soft tissues and these include the nerves, blood vessels, tendons and muscles. When cancer develops in any of these tissues, this disorder is called soft tissue sarcoma. Since there are numerous tissues in the body, there are also several forms of soft tissue sarcoma.

The most frequent types include those that begin in the legs, arms, head, neck and abdominal region. The reasons why this type of cancer develops is not completely known but any type of cancer can occur when cells in the body begin growing rampant due to DNA mutations. Individuals who have a stronger chance of developing soft tissue sarcomas are those who have been previously exposed to various toxic chemicals or radiation.

What are the Symptoms of Soft Tissue Sarcoma?

Many individuals do not realize they have a soft tissue sarcoma because ordinarily there are no identifiable symptoms. The first symptom of a sarcoma that is growing on a person’s leg or arm is usually the presence of a lump underneath the skin. Individuals who have a sarcoma in their abdomen may not realize it is there until it begins interfering with other organs of the body through the force of pressure as it grows. Additional symptoms may include pain in the area of the growth, vomit or bowel movements that contain blood and very dark stools.

Soft Tissue Sarcoma Causes

The causes of soft tissue sarcoma are still something of a mystery to scientists. There are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood you will develop this type of cancer. However, most people who develop soft tissue sarcomas did not display any risk factors.

Your DNA is made up of genes that carry the instructions to make proteins, which in turn determine cell function. Genes that control cell division are known as oncogenes. Conversely, genes that cause cells to die are tumor suppressor genes. Cancer is sometimes caused by DNA defects that interfere with the normal function of these genes.

Some families pass on inherited DNA mutations that create a greater risk of developing breast, kidney, colon and other cancers. In some cases, this also leads to a higher risk of soft tissue sarcomas.

DNA mutations in soft tissue sarcoma are usually acquired rather than inherited. Acquired mutations are caused by exposure to radiation and other cancer-causing agents. However, most sarcomas appear with no apparent reason and in individuals who did not present high-risk factors.

How is Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treated?

After a diagnosis of soft tissue sarcoma, a cancer specialist will review the treatment options that are available. One type of common sarcoma cancer treatment is chemotherapy and this medication can be taken in pill form or intravenously. Radiation is another method that is often used to eradicate cancer cells in the body by using energy beams.

Many individuals are good candidates for undergoing a surgical procedure to remove the soft tissue sarcoma. It is common for chemotherapy and radiation treatments to be scheduled prior to performing the surgery as these treatments will shrink the sarcoma before it is removed from the body.

Soft Tissue Sarcoma Prevention

The only way to prevent soft tissue sarcomas is to avoid the known risk factors. However, most people who develop sarcomas never had any of the risk factors. Keep in mind that you can exhibit all the risk factors and never get this rare form of cancer. Here are some things you can do to reduce your risk.

  • Avoid exposure to radiation whenever possible. (Unfortunately, cancer patients don’t have a choice, even though treatment puts them at risk.)
  • Avoid exposure to herbicides and dioxin.

A family history of neurofibromatosis, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, retinoblastoma, or soft tissue sarcoma, may increase your chance of getting sarcomas. Talk to your doctor about whether you need to be tested for these inherited genes. Be wary that there aren’t many genetic tests that accurately predict soft tissue sarcomas.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 15, 2017