Soft Tissue Sarcoma

What is soft tissue sarcoma?

Soft tissue is a term used to describe all types of tissue in the body, with the exception of bones. Examples of soft tissue include fat, blood vessels, muscle and connective tissue. Sarcoma is a type of cancer which develops in the soft tissue. As soft tissue is all over the body sarcomas can develop in many different areas. Sarcomas cause lumps to form and cancerous cells can break away and extend to other areas of the body. Sarcomas can impinge on most organs in the body, including the lungs, small bowel, stomach and the bones.

What causes soft tissue sarcoma?

As with most forms of cancer the cause of soft tissue sarcomas is unknown. Some risk factors have been identified; although risk factors increase the risk of developing a disease, they do not necessarily mean that an individual will develop that disease. Risk factors for soft tissue sarcoma include:

  • Age: soft tissue sarcoma can affect people from all ages but it is mainly common among people over the age of 30
  • Exposure to chemicals
  • Previous cancer treatment: radiotherapy can increase the risk of developing soft tissue sarcoma, but the risk is only increased very slightly
  • Genetic conditions: an inherited faulty gene can be the cause of soft tissue sarcoma

Symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma

In the early stages of soft tissue sarcoma there are often no symptoms, however, as the cancer develops, symptoms may become apparent. The most common symptom is the formation of a lump, which is usually painless at first but may start to become painful if it begins to press against nerves or organs. Most lumps that develop in the body are not associated with cancer, however, it is always a good idea to see your doctor if you find or feel a lump. If the lump is cancerous early diagnosis could help to improve the chances of survival considerably.

Sarcomas can also cause other symptoms, which usually depend on the organ affected. Sarcomas in the lung may cause coughing and breathing difficulties, while sarcomas in the womb can cause vaginal bleeding.

How is soft tissue sarcoma diagnosed?

If you find a lump or you develop symptoms, you should see your GP. They will carry out an examination and ask a series of questions. If they think you may have a sarcoma they will then get you in contact with a specialist, for more in-depth tests pertaining to the condition. Tests may include biopsy analysis, a chest X-ray, a CT scan and an MRI scan, and these will permit doctors to reach a certain diagnosis.

How is soft tissue sarcoma treated?

Surgery is the main treatment for soft tissue sarcoma and is often combined with radiotherapy or chemotherapy to maximise results. The treatment plan will be bespoke according to the individual and treatments will depend on the general health of the individual and the stage of cancer.

What is the outlook for people with soft tissue sarcoma?

The outlook for soft tissue sarcoma is generally quite good. However, detailed statistics for this form of cancer are not available. The outlook, like many forms of cancer, depends heavily on when the cancer is diagnosed and where the cancer develops.

Living with soft tissue sarcoma

Living with soft tissue sarcoma cancer can be very difficult and there is no definite schedule for coming to terms with this kind of diagnosis. You will experience a whole host of different emotions, but your care team will be on hand to help. If you need information, support or would like to talk to someone, you can speak to one of the cancer charities operating in the UK.

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