Sarcoma (Soft Tissue Sarcoma)

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Soft tissue sarcoma is cancer that invades the body's soft tissue. Soft tissue includes muscles, tendons, connective tissue, fat, blood vessels, nerves, and joint tissue. 

Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treatment

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. 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. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through your body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells. Only certain types of sarcomas get treated with chemotherapy.

Are You at Risk?

An increased risk of sarcoma can come from:

  • 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 doesn't 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 where the sarcoma grows. Tumors found in the following areas of the body can cause:

  • 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

Is it Sarcoma?

At UVA, we have high-tech imaging to help us get an accurate diagnosis of your condition. Our radiologists have cancer expertise for: 

  • 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.



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.