Key Points about Soft Tissue Sarcoma

  • Soft tissue sarcoma can occur in any area of the body in the tissue that supports other body structures.
  • There are more than 50 types of soft tissue sarcomas.
  • Doctors use imaging tests, biopsy and physical exams to diagnose soft tissue sarcoma.
  • Treatment for soft tissue sarcoma may include surgery, chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy and/or radiation therapy.


Soft tissue sarcoma is a rare form of cancer that affects the tissue that supports, connects and surrounds structures in your body, including fat, muscles, nerves, tendons, blood vessels and the lining of the joints. There are more than 50 soft tissue sarcomas; some types affect adults more often, while others mainly affect children.

Soft tissue sarcoma causes

Soft tissue sarcoma is caused when mutations (changes) occur in the soft tissue cells, and then those cells grow and multiply quickly.

Soft tissue sarcoma risk factors

The following factors may increase your risk for developing soft tissue sarcoma:

  • Having specific inherited genetic syndromes, including:
      • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
      • Familial adenomatous polyposis
      • Neurofibromatosis
      • Tuberous sclerosis
      • Werner syndrome
    • Having been exposed to certain harmful chemicals, including herbicides, dioxin or arsenic
    • Having undergone radiation therapy

    Soft tissue sarcoma symptoms

    In its early stages, a soft tissue sarcoma typically doesn’t cause any symptoms. As it grows, a soft tissue sarcoma may cause:

    • A lump or area of swelling
    • Pain (if the tumor is pressing on nerves or muscles)

    Soft tissue sarcoma diagnosis

    Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:

    • Physical exam – your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, including asking questions about your health history, symptoms and related risk factors. 
    • Biopsy – in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small sample) from the suspicious area. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for soft tissue sarcoma. 
    • Computerized tomography (CT) scan – this type of imaging test provides a 3D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine the size and location of the soft tissue sarcoma.
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – this type of imaging test uses high-powered magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine these images to determine the size and location of the soft tissue sarcoma.

    Soft tissue sarcoma treatment

    Depending on your personal health history, the extent of the soft tissue sarcoma and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

    • Surgery – you may need to undergo surgery to remove the cancerous area. Your surgeon will work to preserve as much surrounding healthy tissue as possible.
    • Chemotherapy – you may also need to undergo chemotherapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically. During this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can be taken via an oral (by mouth) pill or intravenously (through a vein).
    • Radiation therapy – this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells. You may need to undergo radiation therapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically.
    • Targeted drug therapy – if you have a certain type of soft tissue sarcoma that is responsive to specific medications, your doctor may recommend this treatment option.

    When should I seek care?

    If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.

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