Soft tissue sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that forms in different tissues of the body. Soft tissues include muscles, fat, nerves, blood vessels, fibrous tissues, and deep layers of the skin. Soft tissue sarcoma can develop on all parts of the body, but the most common places are the arms, legs, and stomach.
Quick Statistics: Soft tissue sarcomas are very rare cancers; about four people per 100,000 are diagnosed each year.
There are more than 50 subtypes of soft tissue sarcoma. They are categorized based on where they are in the body and who is more likely to get them. Some types of soft tissue sarcoma are more common in adults; others are more common in children.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the most common types of soft tissue sarcoma include:
Additional types of soft tissue sarcomas include angiosarcoma, which develops in the lining of the blood vessels; gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST), which develop in the digestive system; osteosarcomas, which start in the bones; and Kaposi’s sarcoma, which develops in the lining of blood vessels and lymph vessels.
We are still learning what causes soft tissue sarcoma. Lifestyle factors—such as smoking, diet, and exercise—are not risk factors for developing this type of cancer. We do know that men are more likely to develop soft tissue sarcoma than women and that Black people have the highest rates of soft tissue sarcoma compared to people of other races.
Some of the things researchers believe can increase the risk of soft tissue sarcoma include:
The signs and symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma depend on the stages of the disease. In early stages, soft tissue sarcoma may not cause any symptoms. As it progresses, there may be swelling or a painless lump somewhere on the body. Pain can still be a symptom, however, if the tumor is pressing against nerves or muscles. If the sarcoma is located in the digestive system, there may be nausea, pain, or constipation.
Soft tissue sarcoma can present with symptoms that are similar to other conditions. If you’re concerned about any new symptoms, discuss them with your healthcare provider. Even if you do not have soft tissue sarcoma, your symptoms may be a sign of a different health issue—even if it’s not as serious.
Quick Statistics: The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2022, roughly 13,000 people will be diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma. For comparison’s sake, basal cell skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the U.S., is diagnosed roughly 4 million times each year.
Soft tissue sarcoma is first diagnosed with imaging tests, such as x-rays, CT scans, or PET scans. If the doctors suspect soft tissue sarcoma, they will perform a biopsy to confirm the type of soft tissue sarcoma you may have.
Soft tissue sarcoma stages range from 1 to 4. Stages are based on:
Treatment options for soft tissue sarcoma include:
Fast Facts: Clinical trials are also available for soft tissue sarcoma, and they are an opportunity to further cancer research. If you’re interested in participating in a clinical trial, discuss your options with your oncologist. You can also learn more about clinical trials from resources such as the American Cancer Society.
Soft tissue sarcoma can be treated successfully. The disease has an approximate 65% 5-year survival rate—meaning 5 years after being diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma, 65% of patients are still alive. The survival rate jumps to 81% if soft tissue sarcoma is treated before it spreads.
It also bears repeating that soft tissue sarcoma is very rare, and its common symptoms may also be a sign of a different health concern. If you’re worried about any symptoms you’re experiencing, talk with your healthcare provider. They can address your concerns and, if necessary, rule out other health issues before checking for soft tissue sarcoma.