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Soft Tissue Sarcomas

Soft tissue sarcomas are cancers of the supporting tissues of the body. Soft tissue tumors can occur in muscles, fat, nerves, blood vessels, tendons and other tissues that support, surround or protect body organs and joints. While most of such tumors are benign (i.e. not cancerous) and are not life-threatening, those that are malignant are called soft tissue sarcomas. Approximately 12,000 soft tissue sarcomas are newly-diagnosed each year in the United States. About 40% of soft tissue sarcomas occur in the legs, usually at or above the knee. 15% develop in the hands or arms, 15% in the head or neck and the remaining 30% in the shoulders, chest, abdomen or hips.

It is not clear why some people develop sarcomas, but researchers have been able to identify some common characteristics in groups with high rates of soft tissue sarcoma. Some studies have shown that people exposed to phenoxyacetic acid in herbicides and chlorophenols in wood preservative have increased risk of developing soft tissue sarcoma, and people with certain inherited diseases such as neurofibromatosis have a higher risk of developing soft tissue sarcomas. People exposed to high doses of radiation are also at a greater risk for developing soft tissue sarcoma. Researchers are also studying genetic abnormalities and chromosome mutations as possible causes of soft tissue sarcomas.

In their early stages, soft tissue sarcomas rarely display any symptoms. Because soft tissue is very elastic, tumors can grow quite large before they are felt. The first symptom is usually a painless lump. As the tumor grows and begins to press against nearby nerves and muscles, soreness or pain will be felt. Soft tissue sarcomas can only be diagnosed by a surgical biopsy procedure in which tissue from the tumor is removed for analysis under a microscope. Soft tissue sarcomas are treated using surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Depending on the size, location, extent and severity of the tumor, a combination of all or some of these treatments may be used. Biological therapy is currently being tested as a treatment in clinical trials.

Note: Information on GIST, above, was provided by GIST Support International.


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  11. The Doctor’s Doctor Web site

  12. The Sarcoma Alliance. Retrieved January 28, 2016 from



National Institutes of Health; National Cancer Institute

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