Soft tissue sarcoma is a type of cancer that begins in the soft tissues of the body. The soft tissues include muscle, fat, blood vessels, nerves, tendons and the lining of the joints, which surround and support the organs of the body. Although soft tissue sarcoma can develop anywhere in the body, there are most commonly seen in the abdominal areas and in the arms and legs.
There are many different types of soft tissue sarcoma, depending on what area of the body is affected.
- Leiomyosarcomas develop in muscle tissue
- Liposarcomas develop in fat tissue
- Angiosarcomas develop in the cells of the blood or lymph vessels
- Gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs) develop in the connective tissues that support the organs of the digestive system
Some types of soft tissue sarcoma occur in children, teenagers and young adults, although there are mostly likely to develop in individuals over the age of 30.
A soft tissue sarcoma may not cause any signs and symptoms in its early stages. As the tumor grows, symptoms may become obvious and more noticeable depending on the location of the tumor.
The most common symptoms include a noticeable lump or swelling and pain when the affected area is pressed on.
Other symptoms can include:
- Chronic cough and difficulty breathing (A sarcoma in the lung)
- Abdominal pain, vomiting and constipation (A sarcoma in the abdomen)
- Bleeding from the vagina and pain in the lower part of the abdomen (A sarcoma in the womb)
The exact cause of soft tissue sarcoma remains unclear. What is known is that cancer occurs when cells develop errors (mutations) in their DNA. This causes the cells to grow abnormally and spiral out of control. Accumulation of abnormal cells form a mass, called a tumor that can grow to invade nearby organs and spread to other areas of the body.
The type of cell that develops the genetic mutation determines what type of soft tissue sarcoma an individual may be suffering from. Some types of soft tissue sarcoma include:
- Alveolar soft part sarcoma
- Clear cell sarcoma
- Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans
- Desmoplastic small round cell tumor
- Epithelioid hemangioendothelioma
- Epithelioid sarcoma
- Extrarenal rhabdoid tumor
- Gastrointestinal stromal tumor
- Infantile fibrosarcoma
- Inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor
- Kaposi's sarcoma
- Malignant fibrous histiocytoma
- Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor
- Perivascular epitheliod cell tumor (PEComa)
- Synovial sarcoma
- Undifferentiated, unclassified soft tissue sarcomas
A few factors that can increase the risk of developing soft tissue sarcoma include:
- Age (more common in middle-aged or elderly individuals)
- Exposure to certain chemicals
- Exposure to radiotherapy
- Certain genetic conditions
Treatment options for soft tissue sarcoma typically depend on the size, location and type of tumor that an individual is suffering from. These treatment options may include:
- Surgery: This is the most common treatment for soft tissue sarcoma and usually involves surgical removal of the cancer and some healthy tissue surrounding it.
- Radiation therapy: The use of high powered beams of energy (X-rays) to kill cancer cells and prevent spreading of the cancer.
- Chemotherapy: The use of chemical substances (anti-cancerous drugs) to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered by pill, through a vein (intravenously), or both methods may be used.
- Targeted drug treatment: The use of specific drugs to block abnormal signals present in sarcoma cells that allow them to grow and accumulate out of the control.