Cancer & Coronavirus
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Sarcoma (Soft Tissue Tumors)

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Soft tissue sarcoma is a disease in which cancer cells are found in the body's soft tissue. Soft tissue includes muscles, tendons, connective tissue, fat, blood vessels, nerves and joint tissue. There are many types of soft tissue sarcoma.

Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. If cells divide uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors, which can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor usually does not invade or spread.

Are You at Risk?

Factors that increase your risk for getting soft tissue sarcoma include:

  • Exposure to certain types of chemicals, such as:
    • Chemicals in herbicides and wood preservatives
    • Polycyclic hydrocarbons
    • Dioxin
  • Exposure to radiation, including therapeutic, diagnostic and accidental
  • History of angiosarcoma of the liver
  • Weak or poorly functioning immune system, including having an HIV infection
  • Certain inherited diseases, such as:
    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
    • Neurofibromatosis
    • Tuberous sclerosis
    • Gardner's syndrome
    • Retinoblastoma
    • Werner syndrome
    • Gorlin syndrome

Sarcoma Symptoms

In the early stages, a sarcoma is small and does not produce symptoms. As the tumor grows, it may push aside normal body structures and cause symptoms, such as a lump or swelling that may or may not be painful. Symptoms vary, depending on the part of the body that is affected. Tumors found in the following areas of the body may develop these symptoms:

  • Arm, leg or trunk — uncomfortable swelling in the affected limb
  • Chest — cough and breathlessness
  • Abdomen — abdominal pain, vomiting and constipation
  • Uterus — bleeding from the vagina and pain in the pelvis or lower abdomen

Sarcoma Diagnosis & Treatment

Your doctor may take images of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

  • X-rays
  • CT
  • MRI
  • Ultrasound
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan

Your doctor may also take a biopsy of your bodily tissues to confirm the diagnosis.

After a sarcoma is found, your doctor will perform staging tests to find out if the cancer has spread and, if so, to what extent. Treatment depends on the stage and type of the cancer.


Surgery requires removal of the cancerous tumor, nearby tissue and possibly nearby lymph nodes.

Radiation Therapy or Radiotherapy

Radiation therapy or radiotherapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Your surgeon will remove as much of the sarcoma as possible, but adding radiation significantly reduces the chances of the cancer coming back. Radiation may be:

  • External radiation therapy — radiation directed at the tumor from a source outside the body
  • Internal radiation therapy — radioactive materials placed into the body near the cancer cells


Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells and may be given in many forms, including via pill, injection or catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through your body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells. Chemotherapy is generally reserved for only certain types of sarcomas.

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.