What is soft tissue sarcoma?
Sarcomas are generally grouped into soft tissue sarcomas and bone sarcomas. Soft tissue sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that forms in the body’s connective tissues, which support or connect other tissues or organs in the body. Bone sarcomas, or bone cancers , form in bone tissue.
Soft tissue sarcomas start in muscles, tendons, fat, blood vessels, skin and nerves. They are most often found in the arms, legs, abdomen and chest. There are more than 50 different types of soft tissue sarcomas, and the type usually depends on where in the body the cancer starts. Each type has its own specific treatment and prognosis.
Some of the most common types of soft tissue sarcoma include:
- Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) – These cancers start in the intestinal tract, usually in the stomach.
- Liposarcoma – These tumors begin in the fat tissue.
- Fibrosarcoma – This type of tumor starts in the fibrous tissue.
- Leiomyosarcoma – This type of tumor starts in the muscle tissue.
- Synovial sarcoma – This is a cancer that starts in the tissue around joints and is most commonly found in the knee, ankle, hip and shoulder.
- Undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma (UPS) – This type of quickly growing tumor can occur anywhere in the body, but most often starts in the back of the abdomen, thighs or arms. It is one of the most common types of sarcoma and used to be called Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma (MFH).
- Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors – These rare tumors start in the cells that line a nerve.
- Angiosarcoma – This type of tumor starts in the blood vessels. Angiosarcomas may develop in areas previously treated with radiation, or in extremities with chronic swelling (lymphedema).
- Epithelioid sarcoma – These tumors usually start under the skin of the hands, forearms, lower legs or feet. This type of sarcoma most often affects young adults.
- Alveolar soft-part sarcoma – This type of tumor usually starts in the legs and most often affects young adults. It is extremely rare.
- Clear cell sarcoma – These tumors usually start in the tendons in the arms or legs. It has features of both a sarcoma and malignant melanoma.
- Kaposi sarcoma – This type of sarcoma starts in the cells that line the lymph nodes. It is caused by the Human Herpes Virus 8 and usually affects the skin.
- Extraskeletal myxoid chondrosarcoma (EMC) – These tumors are usually painless, soft and slow-growing. They tend to form in the legs or feet and spread to other parts of the body.
What are the risk factors for soft tissue sarcoma?
If you have a family history of bone or soft tissue tumors, you are at a higher risk for developing sarcoma. Certain inherited (genetic) conditions have been linked to higher risk for sarcoma, including:
Other risk factors for soft tissue sarcoma include:
- Having had radiation therapy for other cancers.
- Being exposed to certain chemicals, such as vinyl chloride, arsenic or Thorotrast.
- Having swelling in the arms or legs for a long time (chronic lymphedema).
What can you do to prevent soft tissue sarcoma?
While most risk factors for soft tissue sarcoma are not easily controlled, you can lower your risk by reducing your exposure to certain chemicals, such as vinyl chloride, arsenic or Thorotrast.
Additionally, you can reduce your overall risk for all types of cancer by:
- Exercising regularly.
- Eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy. Talk with your doctor or a nutritionist about what you should include in a healthy diet.
- Keeping a healthy weight. Ask your doctor what a healthy weight is for you.
- Asking your doctor about genetic testing and screening recommendations if you have an inherited disease that increases your risk for cancer.
- Not using tobacco. Speak with your doctor if you need help quitting.
"We have made much progress in treating sarcoma and bone cancers, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to be evaluated by your doctor if you notice a lump anywhere on your body."