Sarcoma (Soft Tissue Sarcoma)

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Sarcoma is a rare cancer of the connective tissues of the body like muscle or tendons. It can develop anywhere in the body, like your leg, chest, or abdomen. Its first sign may be a lump, abdominal bloating, or a cough.

Sarcoma can be treated. But it's important to have your care at a center with sarcoma treatment expertise.

At UVA Health, you'll find experts who've devoted their careers to helping patients like you fight soft tissue sarcoma. These experts will lead your care. They work as a team to enhance your treatment.

Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treatment at UVA Health

At UVA Health, Virginia's first Comprehensive Cancer Center, you'll have a team of experts and extensive resources to help you navigate cancer. 

We'll design a personalized treatment plan based on your type of cancer and you. You'll have surgeons, radiation therapists, and chemotherapy specialists on your side.

You may need all or some of the different types of treatment. These include:

Surgery to remove the cancerous tumor, nearby tissue, and possibly nearby lymph nodes.

Radiation therapy or radiotherapy to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation after surgery significantly reduces the chances of the cancer coming back. At UVA Health, we use the most advanced radiation therapy tools. This includes:

  • 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 for Soft Tissue Sarcoma?

Many things increase a person's risk of sarcoma:

  • Exposure to radiation, including therapeutic, diagnostic, and accidental
  • Certain inherited diseases like:
  • Exposure to certain types of chemicals, such as:
    • Chemicals in herbicides and wood preservatives
    • Polycyclic hydrocarbons
    • Dioxin
  • Weak or poorly functioning immune system, including having an HIV infection

Soft tissue sarcoma can also occur by chance without having any of these risk factors. 

Sarcoma Symptoms

This cancer can appear in your: 

  • Muscles
  • Tendons
  • Connective tissue
  • Fat
  • Blood vessels
  • Nerves
  • Joint tissue 

In the early stages, a sarcoma is small. It doesn't cause symptoms. But as the tumor grows, it may push aside normal body structures and cause a lump or swelling. This may or may not be painful.

If you have a concerning lump or experience unexplained abdominal weight gain without changing your diet, it's important not to ignore symptoms. Tell your healthcare provider.

Symptoms depend on where sarcoma tumors appear. For example:

  • Arm, leg, or trunk — uncomfortable swelling in the affected limb
  • Chest — cough and breathlessness
  • Abdomen — increase in waistline without a change in your diet, abdominal pain, vomiting, and constipation
  • Uterus — bleeding from the vagina and pain in the pelvis or lower abdomen

Is it Sarcoma?

At UVA Health, you'll find experts who can find the source of your symptoms. Our team of radiologists may take pictures using our high-tech imaging to see if you have sarcoma. Our radiologists are experts in cancer imaging, including:

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

Your doctor may also take a biopsy (small sample) of your bodily tissues.

This way we can confirm the diagnosis and design the best treatment plan.