Cancer of the connective, or soft tissue is known as soft-tissue sarcoma. It is considered a rare form of cancer, affecting less than 1 percent of all new cancer cases diagnosed annually and mostly affecting patients over 50 years of age.
Signs & Symptoms
In its early stages, soft-tissue sarcoma normally does not display any symptoms. This may be because connective tissue is usually fairly elastic and a tumor pushes out the normal tissue before it is noticed. The first sign is usually a painless lump or swelling in the affected area.
Other symptoms can include:
- Pain or soreness (especially as it pushes against nerves or muscles near the affected area)
- Abdominal pain if the tumor is centralized. These tumors can be mistaken for menstrual cramps or indigestion.
- Most soft-cell sarcomas develop in the upper body, where symptoms may include poor or uneven posture, pain in the trapezius muscle (shoulder blades), or difficulty in turning the head.
Diagnosis & Treatment
A biopsy is the only way to make a definitive diagnosis of soft-cell sarcoma. A small sample of tissue is removed from the mass and examined under a microscope. The tissue is gathered in one of two ways:
- Needle aspiration: A long, thin needle is inserted directly into the mass and a small sample of tissue is drawn out.
- Surgically: A small piece of the mass’s tissue is cut away and examined.
- Treatment options are determined by the location, size, and stage of the mass, and whether it has spread, or metastasized, to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. Most treatment options include:
- Surgery: Doctors will excise, or remove the tumor and a substantial portion of healthy tissue around it to reduce the risk of a recurrence. In severe cases, a patient may need to have a portion of their arm or leg removed.
- Radiation therapy: May be used prior to surgery to shrink the tumors or following surgery to kill any lingering cancer cells. Radiation may also be used to treat tumors that cannot be removed surgically.
- Chemotherapy: May be used in conjunction with radiation prior to surgery to shrink tumors or following surgery to kill any lingering cells. Chemotherapy is not the most effective means of treatment, especially if the cancer has spread beyond the soft or connective tissue.
Soft Tissue Sarcoma Prognosis
A patient’s prognosis depends on the type of sarcoma; the size, stage, and location of the mass; whether the entire tumor was excised surgically; the patient’s age and general health, and whether the cancer is recurring.