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Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma
What is adult soft tissue sarcoma?
Adult soft tissue sarcoma is a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in the soft tissue of part of the body. The soft tissues of the body include the muscles, connective tissues (tendons), vessels that carry blood or lymph, joints, and fat.
A lump or swelling in part of the body may appear if a person has a soft tissue sarcoma. The lump may not be painful. If there are symptoms, a doctor may cut out a piece of tissue from the swollen area. This is called a biopsy. The tissue will be looked at under a microscope to see if there are any cancer cells. A patient may need to go to the hospital for this test.
(See the PDQ summary on Uterine Sarcoma Treatment for more information.)
Stages of adult soft tissue sarcoma
Once adult soft tissue sarcoma is found, more tests will be done to find out if cancercells have spread to other parts of the body. This testing is called staging. A doctor needs to know the stage of the disease to plan treatment. Unlike most other cancers, the size of a soft tissue sarcoma is not as important as how the cancer cells look under a microscope. The more different the cancer cells look from normal cells, the higher the stage. The following stages are used for adult soft tissue sarcoma:
The cancercells look either very much like or somewhat different from normal cells (well-differentiated or moderately well-differentiated). The cancer is either near the surface or deep and may be any size. The cancer has not spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body (lymph nodes are small bean-shaped structures that are found throughout the body; they produce and store infection-fighting cells).
The cancercells look very different from normal cells (poorly differentiated or undifferentiated). The cancer is either near the surface or deep and is 5 centimeters or smaller in size, but it has not spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
The cancercells look very different from normal cells (poorly differentiated or undifferentiated). The cancer is deep and is more than 5 centimeters in size, but it has not spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
Treatment Option Overview
How adult soft tissue sarcoma is treated
There are treatments for all patients with adult soft tissue sarcoma. Three kinds of treatment are used:
Surgery is the most common treatment of adult soft tissue sarcoma. A doctor may remove the cancer and some of the healthy tissue around the cancer. Sometimes all or part of an arm or leg may have to be removed (amputated) to make sure that all of the cancer is taken out. If cancer has spread to lymph nodes, the lymph nodes will be removed (lymph node dissection).
Radiation therapy uses x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy) or from putting materials that produce radiation (radioisotopes) through thin plastic tubes in the area where the cancer cells are found (internal radiation therapy).
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be taken by pill, or it may be put into the body by a needle in a vein or muscle. Chemotherapy is called a systemic treatment because the drug enters the bloodstream, travels through the body, and kills cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy that is given after surgery when no cancer cells can be seen is called adjuvant chemotherapy. In soft tissue sarcoma, chemotherapy is sometimes injected directly into the blood vessels in the area where the cancer is found. This treatment is called regional chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy may be used to shrink the cancer so it can be removed without taking off an entire arm or leg.
Treatment by stage
Treatments for adult soft tissue sarcoma depend on the stage of the disease, and the patient’s age and general health.
Patients may consider standard therapy, because of its effectiveness in past studies, or participation in a clinical trial. Not all patients are cured with standard therapy, and some standard treatments may have more side effects than are desired. For these reasons, clinical trials are designed to find better ways to treat cancer patients and are based on the most up-to-date information. For more information about clinical trials, call the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237); TTY at 1-800-332-8615.
Stage I Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma
Treatment may be one of the following:
Surgery with radiation therapy before or after the surgery.
High-dose radiation therapy followed by surgery and radiation therapy.
If cancer is found in the head or neck or in the abdomen or chest, treatment may be one of the following:
Surgery to remove the cancer possibly followed by radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy followed by surgery.
Stage II and III Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma
Treatment may be one of the following:
Surgery to remove the cancer followed by radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy alone.
Radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy before surgery, possibly followed by radiation therapy.
Stage IV Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma
Radiation therapy before and after surgery to remove the cancer, and lymph node dissection.
If the cancer has spread to the lungs, treatment may be one of the following:
Surgery to remove the primary cancer, followed by radiation therapy, followed by surgery to remove the cancer from the lungs.
Surgery to remove the primary cancer.
Surgery to remove the primary cancer, followed by radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy, possibly followed by chemotherapy.
If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, treatment may be one of the following:
Surgery to remove the cancer with radiation therapy before or after the surgery, possibly followed by chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy to reduce the pain and discomfort caused by the cancer.
Recurrent Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma
Treatment depends on the kind of treatment the patient had before. Treatment may be one of the following:
Surgery to remove the cancer followed by radiation therapy.
Changes to This Summary (04/12/2006)
. Changes were made to this summary to match those made to the health professional version.
To Learn More
For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Deaf and hard-of-hearing callers with TTY equipment may call 1-800-332-8615. The call is free and a trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.
Web sites and Organizations
The NCI Web site provides online access to information on cancer, clinical trials, and other Web sites and organizations that offer support and resources for cancer patients and their families. There are also many other places where people can get materials and information about cancer treatment and services. Local hospitals may have information on local and regional agencies that offer information about finances, getting to and from treatment, receiving care at home, and dealing with problems associated with cancer treatment.
The NCI has booklets and other materials for patients, health professionals, and the public. These publications discuss types of cancer, methods of cancer treatment, coping with cancer, and clinical trials. Some publications provide information on tests for cancer, cancer causes and prevention, cancer statistics, and NCI research activities. NCI materials on these and other topics may be ordered online or printed directly from the NCI Publications Locator. These materials can also be ordered by telephone from the Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237), TTY at 1-800-332-8615.
The NCI's LiveHelp service, a program available on several of the Institute's Web sites, provides Internet users with the ability to chat online with an Information Specialist. The service is available from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. Information Specialists can help Internet users find information on NCI Web sites and answer questions about cancer.
For more information from the NCI, please write to this address:
NCI Public Inquiries Office
6116 Executive Boulevard, MSC8322
Bethesda, MD 20892-8322
PDQ is a comprehensive cancer database available on NCI's Web site.
PDQ is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. Most of the information contained in PDQ is available online at NCI's Web site. PDQ is provided as a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health, the federal government's focal point for biomedical research.
PDQ contains cancer information summaries.
The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries are available in two versions. The health professional versions provide detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions provide current and accurate cancer information.
The PDQ cancer information summaries are developed by cancer experts and reviewed regularly.
Editorial Boards made up of experts in oncology and related specialties are responsible for writing and maintaining the cancer information summaries. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made as new information becomes available. The date on each summary ("Date Last Modified") indicates the time of the most recent change.
PDQ also contains information on clinical trials.
Before starting treatment, patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about new treatments, the risks involved, and how well they do or do not work. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard."
Listings of clinical trials are included in PDQ and are available online at NCI's Web site. Descriptions of the trials are available in health professional and patient versions. Many cancer doctors who take part in clinical trials are also listed in PDQ. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237); TTY at 1-800-332-8615.