Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treatment (PDQ®)

General Information About Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Adult soft tissue sarcoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the soft tissues of the body.

The soft tissues of the body include the muscles, tendons (bands of fiber that connect muscles to bones), fat, blood vessels, lymph vessels, nerves, and tissues around joints. Adult soft tissue sarcomas can form almost anywhere in the body, but are most common in the legs, abdomen, arms, and trunk.

There are many types of soft tissue sarcoma. One type that forms in the wall of the stomach, intestines, or rectum is called a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST). The cells of each type of sarcoma look different under a microscope, based on the type of soft tissue in which the cancer began.

Having certain inherited disorders can increase the risk of developing adult soft tissue sarcoma.

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Risk factors for soft tissue sarcoma include the following inherited disorders:

Other risk factors for soft tissue sarcoma include past treatment with radiation therapy during childhood or for the following types of cancer:

Possible signs of adult soft tissue sarcoma include a lump or swelling in soft tissue of the body.

A sarcoma may appear as a painless lump under the skin, often on an arm or a leg. Sarcomas that begin in the abdomen may not cause symptoms until they become very large. As the sarcoma grows larger and presses on nearby organs, nerves, muscles, or blood vessels, symptoms may include:

Other conditions may cause the same symptoms that soft tissue sarcomas do. A doctor should be consulted if any of these problems occur.

Adult soft tissue sarcoma is diagnosed with a biopsy.

If a soft tissue sarcoma is suspected, a biopsy will be done. The type of biopsy that is done will be based on the size and location of the tumor. There are two types of biopsy that may be used:

Samples will be taken from the primary tumor, lymph nodes, and other suspicious areas. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells and to find out the grade of the tumor. The grade of a tumor depends on how abnormal the cancer cells look under a microscope and how quickly the cells are dividing. High-grade tumors usually grow and spread more quickly than low-grade tumors. Because soft tissue sarcoma can be hard to diagnose, patients should ask to have biopsy samples checked by a pathologist who has experience in diagnosing soft tissue sarcoma.

Certain factors affect treatment options and prognosis (chance of recovery).

The treatment options and prognosis (chance of recovery) depend on the following:

Stages of Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma

After adult soft tissue sarcoma has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the soft tissue or to other parts of the body.

The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the soft tissue or to other parts of the body is called staging. Staging of soft tissue sarcoma is also based on the grade and size of the tumor, whether it is superficial (close to the skin's surface) or deep, and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment.

The following tests and procedures may be used in the staging process:

The results of these tests are viewed together with the results of the tumor biopsies to determine the stage of the soft tissue sarcoma.

There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.

The three ways that cancer spreads in the body are:

When cancer cells break away from the primary (original) tumor and travel through the lymph or blood to other places in the body, another (secondary) tumor may form. This process is called metastasis. The secondary (metastatic) tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually breast cancer cells. The disease is metastatic breast cancer, not bone cancer.

The following stages are used for adult soft tissue sarcoma:

Stage I

In stage I, the tumor is any size, low-grade (likely to grow and spread slowly), and may be either superficial (close to the skin's surface) or deep.

Pea, peanut, walnut, and lime show tumor sizes.

Stage II

In stage II, the tumor is high-grade (likely to grow and spread quickly) and either:

Stage III

In stage III, the tumor is high-grade, larger than 5 centimeters, and deep.

Stage IV

In stage IV, the tumor is any size, any grade, and has spread to nearby lymph nodes or to other parts of the body.

Recurrent Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Recurrent adult soft tissue sarcoma is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the same soft tissue or in other parts of the body.

Treatment Option Overview

There are different types of treatment for patients with adult soft tissue sarcoma.

Different types of treatments are available for patients with adult soft tissue sarcoma. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Three types of standard treatment are used:

Surgery

Surgery is the most common treatment for adult soft tissue sarcoma. For some soft-tissue sarcomas, removal of the tumor in surgery may be the only treatment needed. The following surgical procedures may be used:

Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be given before or after surgery to remove the tumor. When given before surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy will make the tumor smaller and reduce the amount of tissue that needs to be removed during surgery. Treatment given before surgery is called neoadjuvant therapy. When given after surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy will kill any remaining cancer cells. Treatment given after the surgery is called adjuvant therapy.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Fast neutron radiation therapy is a type of high-energy external radiation therapy. A radiation therapy machine aims tiny, invisible particles, called neutrons, at the cancer cells to kill them. Fast neutron radiation therapy uses a higher-energy radiation than the x-ray type of radiation therapy. This allows the same amount of radiation to be given in fewer treatments.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the spinal column, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant

High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant is a method of giving high doses of chemotherapy and replacing blood-forming cells destroyed by the cancer treatment. Stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the blood or bone marrow of the patient or a donor and are frozen and stored. After the chemotherapy is completed, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body's blood cells.

Targeted drug therapy

Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to find and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells. Imatinib (Gleevec) is a new type of targeted therapy called a tyrosine kinase inhibitor. It finds and blocks an abnormal protein on cancer cells that causes them to divide and grow. Targeted therapy may be used for gastrointestinal stromal tumors that cannot be removed by surgery or that have spread to other parts of the body.

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's clinical trials database.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.

Treatment Options for Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma

A link to a list of current clinical trials is included for each treatment section. For some types or stages of cancer, there may not be any trials listed. Check with your doctor for clinical trials that are not listed here but may be right for you.

Stage I Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Treatment of stage I adult soft tissue sarcoma may include the following:

If cancer is found in the head, neck, abdomen, or chest, treatment may include the following:

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage I adult soft tissue sarcoma.

Stage II and III Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Treatment of stage II and III adult soft tissue sarcoma may include the following:

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage II adult soft tissue sarcoma and stage III adult soft tissue sarcoma.

Stage IV Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Treatment of stage IV adult soft tissue sarcoma that involves lymph nodes may include the following:

Treatment of stage IV adult soft tissue sarcoma that involves internal organs of the body may include the following:

These treatments may be followed by surgery to remove lesions on the lungs.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage IV adult soft tissue sarcoma.

Treatment Options for Recurrent Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Treatment of recurrent adult soft tissue sarcoma may include the following:

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with recurrent adult soft tissue sarcoma.

To Learn More About Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma

For more information from the National Cancer Institute about adult soft tissue sarcoma, see the following:

For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:

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Changes to This Summary (06/13/2008)

The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.

Several enhancements have been made to this summary to better explain certain medical concepts and to help readers find information about clinical trials. The following changes were made:

About PDQ

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.

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 the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

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.

Date last modified 2008-06-13