Sarcoma

Sarcoma (Soft Tissue Sarcoma/STS)

A sarcoma is a cancerous tumor that can grow in any part of the body. Soft tissue sarcoma (STS) is rare, yet there are more than 50 different types. The more frequent types include:

  • Dermatofibrosarcoma/DFSP (skin)
  • Fibrosarcoma (connective tissue)
  • Hemangioendothelioma (blood vessels)
  • Kaposi's sarcoma (skin and mucous membranes)
  • Liposarcoma (fat)
  • Leiomyosarcoma (smooth muscles of internal organs)
  • Lymphangiosarcoma (lymph vessels)
  • Peripheral nerve sheath tumor (nerves)
  • Pleomorphic sarcoma (any soft tissue)
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma (skeletal muscles)
  • Synovial sarcoma (arm and leg joints)

Soft tissue sarcomas most often occur in the arms and legs. The tumors vary from patient to patient, but usually appear as a small painless lump.

Scientists still don't know exactly what causes most soft tissue sarcomas. Research is ongoing, as doctors work to improve diagnosis and treatments. Right now, the most common treatment is surgery to remove the tumor. Sometimes radiation or chemotherapy will follow.

Also see Dr. Colette Pameijer, a surgical oncologist, who shares insights during Episode 42 of Ask Us Anything About -Sarcoma.

Treatment

Sarcomas are rare tumors, and it takes an experienced multidisciplinary team to correctly diagnose and manage them. All the Penn State Cancer Institute specialists involved in your care work together to create a treatment plan that suits the patient. They consider the size of the tumor, its location, how advanced it is and how healthy you are.

Surgery

Doctors typically treat soft tissue sarcoma with surgery. 

  • In the early stages, the tumor and some healthy tissue around it is removed.
  • In more advanced stages, surgery may be followed by radiation or chemotherapy. 
  • If the cancer is found at a late stage in an arm or leg, the limb may need to be amputated (removed). That is very rare.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy may be used to help kill cancer cells that have spread to different areas of the body. A new approach infuses the chemotherapy only where the cancer is found.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation or chemotherapy may be used:

  • Before surgery to help shrink the tumor to make it easier to remove.
  • After surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Care Team

You may see one or more of the following specialists for your cancer treatment.
Joseph Drabick, MD Joseph Drabick, MD Medical Oncologists View Researcher Profile
Edward Fox, MD Edward Fox, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Harold Harvey, MD Harold Harvey, MD Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Timothy Johnson, MD Timothy Johnson, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Heath Mackley, MD Heath Mackley, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Rogerio Neves, MD, PhD Rogerio Neves, MD, PhD View Researcher Profile
Colette R. Pameijer, MD Colette R. Pameijer, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Cristina Truica, MD Cristina Truica, MD Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Nicholas Zaorsky, MD Nicholas Zaorsky, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile

Locations

Penn State Cancer Institute

Penn State Cancer Institute

400 University Dr
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-6585

Clinical Trials

Groups, Classes and Support

Support groups offer an opportunity to connect with other patients, caregivers and families. Learn more about support groups offered at Penn State Cancer Institute.

Prevention and Screening

Even with all the research going on today, scientists have not yet discovered the cause of most soft tissue sarcomas. Since we don’t know what causes sarcoma, we have no way to prevent it. 

If you discover a lump, see your doctor right away. On the rare chance that it is cancer, early treatment will improve your odds of surviving.

Risk Factors

Scientists have found that you may have an increased likelihood of developing sarcomas if you have:

  • An inherited (genetic) disease, such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome (TP53 gene) or neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1 gene), two types of brain tumors
  • Had radiation therapy for other cancers
  • Been exposed to certain chemicals, such as vinyl chloride (an industrial chemical used to create PVC products) or certain herbicides (weed killers)
  • Had lymphedema (swelling in the arms or legs) for a long time

Symptoms and Diagnosis

A sarcoma is a rare kind of cancer. Sarcomas are different from the much more common carcinomas because they happen in a different kind of tissue. 

Symptoms

See your doctor about any lump, even if it is not painful. Most lumps are not cancer, but must be checked to make sure.

In the early stages of soft tissue sarcoma, there are often no symptoms. As the tumor grows, it may cause a lump or swelling that keeps growing over time. 

Sometimes these symptoms appear:

  • Pain, if the tumor presses on a nerve, organ, blood vessel or muscle
  • Blockage or bleeding in the stomach or intestines
  • Breathing problems

Diagnosis

If your doctors suspects sarcoma, he or she will take your medical history and give you a physical exam. You may undergo medical tests, such as:

Biopsy

If your doctor suspects cancer, you might have a biopsy. A tissue sample will be taken from the tumor and examined by a pathologist. The biopsy will show if cancer is present and help show how quickly it is growing. 

Staging

Your medical team needs to know what stage your cancer is in: the early, middle or advanced stage. Your team may ask for staging tests to tell how much cancer is present and if it has spread. 

Outlook & Prognosis

When soft tissue sarcoma is found and treated in its early stage, the outlook for the patient is very good. Most people who survive five years can expect to be cancer-free 10 years later. Studies show that:

  • If the cancer has not spread, more than eight out of every 10 people treated for sarcoma remain cancer-free after five years.
  • If the cancer has only spread near to the tumor (locally), more than half of the people treated are still cancer-free five years later.
  • If the cancer has spread to distant body parts, 16 percent of people treated remain cancer-free at five years.

Sarcoma

Sarcoma (Soft Tissue Sarcoma/STS)

A sarcoma is a cancerous tumor that can grow in any part of the body. Soft tissue sarcoma (STS) is rare, yet there are more than 50 different types. The more frequent types include:

  • Dermatofibrosarcoma/DFSP (skin)
  • Fibrosarcoma (connective tissue)
  • Hemangioendothelioma (blood vessels)
  • Kaposi's sarcoma (skin and mucous membranes)
  • Liposarcoma (fat)
  • Leiomyosarcoma (smooth muscles of internal organs)
  • Lymphangiosarcoma (lymph vessels)
  • Peripheral nerve sheath tumor (nerves)
  • Pleomorphic sarcoma (any soft tissue)
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma (skeletal muscles)
  • Synovial sarcoma (arm and leg joints)

Soft tissue sarcomas most often occur in the arms and legs. The tumors vary from patient to patient, but usually appear as a small painless lump.

Scientists still don't know exactly what causes most soft tissue sarcomas. Research is ongoing, as doctors work to improve diagnosis and treatments. Right now, the most common treatment is surgery to remove the tumor. Sometimes radiation or chemotherapy will follow.

Also see Dr. Colette Pameijer, a surgical oncologist, who shares insights during Episode 42 of Ask Us Anything About -Sarcoma.

Sarcomas are rare tumors, and it takes an experienced multidisciplinary team to correctly diagnose and manage them. All the Penn State Cancer Institute specialists involved in your care work together to create a treatment plan that suits the patient. They consider the size of the tumor, its location, how advanced it is and how healthy you are.

Surgery

Doctors typically treat soft tissue sarcoma with surgery. 

  • In the early stages, the tumor and some healthy tissue around it is removed.
  • In more advanced stages, surgery may be followed by radiation or chemotherapy. 
  • If the cancer is found at a late stage in an arm or leg, the limb may need to be amputated (removed). That is very rare.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy may be used to help kill cancer cells that have spread to different areas of the body. A new approach infuses the chemotherapy only where the cancer is found.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation or chemotherapy may be used:

  • Before surgery to help shrink the tumor to make it easier to remove.
  • After surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
You may see one or more of the following specialists for your cancer treatment.
Joseph Drabick, MD Joseph Drabick, MD Medical Oncologists View Researcher Profile
Edward Fox, MD Edward Fox, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Harold Harvey, MD Harold Harvey, MD Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Timothy Johnson, MD Timothy Johnson, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Heath Mackley, MD Heath Mackley, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Rogerio Neves, MD, PhD Rogerio Neves, MD, PhD View Researcher Profile
Colette R. Pameijer, MD Colette R. Pameijer, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Cristina Truica, MD Cristina Truica, MD Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Nicholas Zaorsky, MD Nicholas Zaorsky, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Penn State Cancer Institute

Penn State Cancer Institute

400 University Dr
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-6585
Support groups offer an opportunity to connect with other patients, caregivers and families. Learn more about support groups offered at Penn State Cancer Institute.

Even with all the research going on today, scientists have not yet discovered the cause of most soft tissue sarcomas. Since we don’t know what causes sarcoma, we have no way to prevent it. 

If you discover a lump, see your doctor right away. On the rare chance that it is cancer, early treatment will improve your odds of surviving.

Risk Factors

Scientists have found that you may have an increased likelihood of developing sarcomas if you have:

  • An inherited (genetic) disease, such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome (TP53 gene) or neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1 gene), two types of brain tumors
  • Had radiation therapy for other cancers
  • Been exposed to certain chemicals, such as vinyl chloride (an industrial chemical used to create PVC products) or certain herbicides (weed killers)
  • Had lymphedema (swelling in the arms or legs) for a long time
A sarcoma is a rare kind of cancer. Sarcomas are different from the much more common carcinomas because they happen in a different kind of tissue. 

Symptoms

See your doctor about any lump, even if it is not painful. Most lumps are not cancer, but must be checked to make sure.

In the early stages of soft tissue sarcoma, there are often no symptoms. As the tumor grows, it may cause a lump or swelling that keeps growing over time. 

Sometimes these symptoms appear:

  • Pain, if the tumor presses on a nerve, organ, blood vessel or muscle
  • Blockage or bleeding in the stomach or intestines
  • Breathing problems

Diagnosis

If your doctors suspects sarcoma, he or she will take your medical history and give you a physical exam. You may undergo medical tests, such as:

Biopsy

If your doctor suspects cancer, you might have a biopsy. A tissue sample will be taken from the tumor and examined by a pathologist. The biopsy will show if cancer is present and help show how quickly it is growing. 

Staging

Your medical team needs to know what stage your cancer is in: the early, middle or advanced stage. Your team may ask for staging tests to tell how much cancer is present and if it has spread. 

Outlook & Prognosis

When soft tissue sarcoma is found and treated in its early stage, the outlook for the patient is very good. Most people who survive five years can expect to be cancer-free 10 years later. Studies show that:

  • If the cancer has not spread, more than eight out of every 10 people treated for sarcoma remain cancer-free after five years.
  • If the cancer has only spread near to the tumor (locally), more than half of the people treated are still cancer-free five years later.
  • If the cancer has spread to distant body parts, 16 percent of people treated remain cancer-free at five years.