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Soft Tissue Sarcoma: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Soft tissue sarcoma is a type of cancer that affects body tissues such as muscles and nerves. This cancer can cause widespread and even life-threatening damage. See an explanation of the symptoms, causes, and how to treat it in full below.

Soft Tissue Sarcoma: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

What is Soft Tissue Sarcoma?

Soft tissue sarcoma is a rare cancer of the tissues that connect, support, and surround other body structures. This tissue includes muscle, fat, blood vessels, nerves, tendons, and the lining of joints.

There are more than 50 subtypes of soft tissue sarcoma. Some types are more likely to occur in children, while others occur mostly in adults.

Although it can grow in any part of the body, this condition often occurs in the arms, legs and stomach

Symptom Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Symptoms depend on the location where the tumor is located. This type of cancer often has no obvious symptoms in its early stages, and symptoms appear when the lump grows or spreads.

The following symptoms can be recognized, including:

  • The swelling under the skin causes a painless lump that is hard to move and gets bigger over time.
  • Swelling in the abdomen can cause stomach pain, a feeling of fullness, and persistent constipation.
  • Swelling near the lungs can cause coughing or shortness of breath.

When is the Right Time to See a Doctor?

Immediately visit a doctor if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Lumps that enlarge or become painful.
  • Lumps of various sizes that are located deep in the muscles.
  • Recurrence of lumps that have been removed.

Even if you most likely have a noncancerous condition, such as a cyst (fluid under the skin) or a lipoma (a fatty lump), it’s important to check your symptoms with your doctor.

Also Read: Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Reason Soft Tissue Sarcoma

The cause of soft tissue cancer is still not known with certainty. However, in general, cancer occurs when cells develop errors (mutations) in their DNA.

This error causes cells to grow and divide out of control. The abnormal cells that accumulate form a tumor that grows to invade nearby structures and the abnormal cells spread to other parts of the body.

The type of cell that develops the genetic mutation can determine the type of soft tissue sarcoma. For example, angiosarcoma starts in the lining of blood vessels, while liposarcoma arises from fat cells.

Risk Factors

The following are several factors that can increase the risk of sarcoma, including:

  • Age. This condition is more common in older people and the risk increases with age.
  • Inherited syndrome. The risk can be inherited from parents. Genetic syndromes that increase the risk include hereditary retinoblastoma, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis, neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis, and Werner’s syndrome.
  • Chemical exposure. Being exposed to certain chemicals, such as herbicides, arsenic, and dioxins, can increase your risk of soft tissue sarcoma.
  • Radiation exposure. Previous radiation treatment for other types of cancer can increase the risk.

Diagnosis of Soft Tissue Sarcoma

If the doctor feels that the patient may have this condition, you may be referred for a number of tests.

Diagnosis will be based on the presenting symptoms, physical examination, and the results of the following tests:

1. Scanning

The ultrasound scan procedure is usually the first test performed because the equipment used is relatively simple and the results are fast. Further scans such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be done at a later date.

2. Biopsy

Biopsy is done by taking a sample of suspected cancerous tissue. Retrieval by using a needle or during surgery, which is then analyzed in the laboratory.

If a person has soft tissue sarcoma, these and further tests will also help determine how likely it is that the cancer has spread (known as grade), and how far the cancer has spread or metastasized (known as stage).

Types of Soft Tissue Sarcomas

The following are several types of soft tissue sarcoma, including:

  • Angiosarcoma.
  • Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans.
  • Epithelioid sarcoma.
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST).
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma.
  • Leiomyosarcoma.
  • Liposarcoma.
  • Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor.
  • Myxofibrosarcoma.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma.
  • Solitary fibrous tumor.
  • Synovial sarcoma.

Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treatment

Treatment for this type of cancer depends on the size, type, location of the tumor, how far it has spread, age, and general health.

The following are some of the treatments that can be done, including:

1. Operation

Surgery or surgery is a common treatment for soft tissue sarcoma. Surgery usually involves removing the cancer and some of the healthy tissue around it.

When these cancers grow in the arms and legs, radiation and chemotherapy may be considered to shrink the tumor to avoid amputation.

2. Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy or radiotherapy is used before or after surgery to increase the chances of healing. This step is performed using a machine that directs the radiation beam to the cancer area.

Radiotherapy alone is sometimes used when surgery is not possible, and is useful for reducing symptoms from sarcoma or slowing its progression.

3. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells.

Chemotherapy can be given in the form of pills or through a vein (intravenously). Some forms of soft tissue sarcoma may respond better to chemotherapy than others. For example, chemotherapy is often used to treat rhabdomyosarcoma.

4. Targeted Drug Treatment

Some types of soft tissue sarcoma have specific cell characteristics that can be attacked through targeted drug treatments. These drugs work better than chemotherapy and are almost non-toxic. Targeted treatment is especially helpful for gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST).

Also Read: Osteosarcoma: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Complications of Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Possible complications from the tumor itself depend on its location and size. As tumors grow larger, they can press on important structures, including the lungs, intestines, nerves and blood vessels.

A growing tumor can invade and damage surrounding tissue. If the tumor spreads, it means the cells break off and end up in other locations.

New tumors can grow in organs, such as bones, brain, liver, and lungs. In these locations, tumors can cause extensive and life-threatening damage.

Soft Tissue Sarcoma Prevention

There is no known way to prevent this cancer. If you know you already have risk factors, you should ask your doctor about what symptoms might be a sign of this cancer.

That way, you and your doctor can take steps to treat the condition before the tumor spreads.

However, you can lower your risk of soft tissue sarcoma with the following steps:

  • Avoid radiation exposure.
  • Avoid exposure to chemicals.
  • Routinely consult a doctor if you experience complaints of genetic disorders.

Apart from that, it is accompanied by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising diligently.

  1. Anonymous. 2020. Soft tissue sarcoma. (Accessed February 22, 2023)
  2. Anonymous. 2019. Soft tissue sarcomas. (Accessed 22 February 2023)
  3. Anonymous. 2023. Soft Tissue Sarcomas. (Accessed February 22, 2023)
  4. Case-Lo, Christine. 2019. Soft Tissue Sarcoma (Rhabdomyosarcoma). (Accessed February 22, 2023)

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