Soft Tissue Sarcoma refers to a type of cancerous tumors that occur in the soft tissues of the body.
Soft tissue can refer to connective tissues, but also includes muscle, fat, and blood vessels. Soft tissue sarcoma are fairly rare, accounting for less than 1% of all new cancer diagnosis each year.
They are more likely to occur in the upper body in places like the shoulders, but they can occur anywhere. The majority of cases are diagnosed in people above the age of 50, but soft tissue sarcoma also occurs in children. Soft tissue cells do not continuously multiply like other cells in the body so this makes the tumors slow growing.
While the causes of soft tissue sarcoma are not known it has been associated with several potential risk factors. The first is exposure to certain chemicals such as chlorophenols, phenoxy herbicides and vinyl chloride.
This class of sarcoma is also associated with genetic diseases including Recklinghausen’s disease. The tumors may be benign or malignant. They have the potential to spread cancer to other parts of the body and they most frequently spread to the lungs. Some common types of soft tissue sarcoma include fibrosarcoma, liposarcoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, leiomyosarcoma, and hemangiosarcoma.
Signs and Symptoms
Because of the slow-growing nature of soft tissue sarcoma, many show no signs or symptoms until the tumor has grown quite large. Larger tumors may show as painless lumps or swelling. As the tumor grows it can become painful. The tumors can begin to push on surrounding tissue and nerves.
Soft tissue sarcoma is diagnosed by taking a biopsy of the tumor cells. This can be done by a needle aspiration or by surgery. A pathologist will then look at the cells and determine the type of cancer and the likelihood of whether or not they think it will metastasize.
As with most tumors, treatment for soft tissue sarcoma depends on the size, location and stage of the cancer, as well as the overall health of the patient. A big consideration also is whether or not the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. When possible surgery is used to remove the tumor and a margin of healthy tissue surrounding it. This is done to give the patient the best possible chance of the cancer not returning.
In rare cases an entire arm or leg has been removed in order to ensure that tumor is removed completely. Radiation and chemotherapy, or a combination of both, are used before and after surgery to reduce the size of the tumor. Chemotherapy has not been effective in completely getting rid of the cancer, but it can be helpful.
Due to the wide variety of tumors that fall under the category of soft tissue sarcoma, prognosis really depends on each individual case. In general though the prognosis is good if the sarcoma is detected early. The five-year survival rate is approximately 90%.