Sarcoma is a type of cancer that happens when the cells present in bones and muscles begin to divide abnormally. The two most common forms are bone and soft tissue sarcomas.
Soft tissue sarcomas begin in the muscles, fats, lymph vessels, blood vessels, nerves and fat cells along with other kinds of tissues.
While they can occur anywhere in the body, the arms, legs and abdomen are the most prevalent sites.
Soft tissue sarcoma is one of the rare forms of cancer, and it can happen at any age.
Oncologists have identified about 50 types of soft tissue sarcomas, which could arise from various cell types in different locations. Following are the types of soft tissue sarcomas that are commonly seen:
Most soft tissue sarcoma types usually begin in the leg, and the presence of a painless lump could be the first symptom of this condition. This cancer type can also form in the stomach and chest region. Soft tissue sarcomas can cause other symptoms too. If any of the following symptoms last for more than two weeks, one should immediately consult a doctor:
There is no sufficient data on the exact causes of soft tissue sarcoma. Nevertheless, the researchers have identified a few factors that can increase one’s risk of developing soft tissue sarcoma:
As there are various types of soft tissue sarcomas, it becomes imperative to get the diagnosis right before proceeding with the treatment. There are multiple testing methods available for the detection and diagnosis of soft tissue sarcomas:
a. Physical Exam: Before anything, the doctor thoroughly assesses the patient’s medical history for underlying medical conditions. Later, the doctor will examine the patient for the signs of soft tissue sarcoma, which could be lumps and other anomalies.
b. Imaging Tests: If sarcoma is suspected, various imaging tests may be recommended. Imaging tests, such as ultrasound scans, MRI scans, PET CT scans, etc., help doctors in obtaining detailed information, such as the size of the tumour, its exact location and its stage.
The results from tests may also be used in staging the disease, planning the treatment and also, monitoring the treatment response shown by the patient.
c. Biopsy: During the biopsy, a small portion of the suspected tissue is collected and examined under a microscope for the presence of cancer cells. A biopsy is the only way to obtain a definitive diagnosis of soft tissue sarcoma.
The biopsy sample may be obtained either by inserting a needle or through surgery.
There are various treatment options available for the management of soft tissue sarcomas.
a. Surgery: Surgery is the main line of treatment for soft tissue sarcomas. There are different surgical procedures to support the successful treatment of soft tissue sarcomas. The doctor may recommend the following surgical procedures depending on the severity of the disease:
b. Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation beams in the form of X-rays or proton beams to destroy the tumour cells. Radiation therapy may be administered before the surgery (neoadjuvant) to shrink the tumour or after the surgery (adjuvant) to destroy the residual cancer cells.
c. Chemotherapy: This treatment approach destroys cancer cells by using powerful anticancer drugs. Chemotherapy may be administered orally, intravenously or intramuscularly. It is often combined with other treatments in order to enhance the efficacy of the overall treatment. Chemotherapy is found to work well for specific types of soft tissue sarcoma.
d. Targeted drug treatment: Targeted drug therapy works by identifying the specific vulnerabilities present on the cancer cells and attacking them. Targeted therapy acts more precisely than chemotherapy and thereby helps in reducing damage to healthy tissues. This treatment approach is found to be helpful in the management of gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs).
Yes, soft tissue sarcomas are treatable, as we have many treatment options available today. However, for the clinical outcomes to be excellent, this disease has to be diagnosed in the early stages. In the early stages, soft tissue sarcomas can be treated successfully with less complex treatment plans.
However, as the disease progresses, much more complex treatment becomes necessary and the quality of clinical outcomes may also go down. Therefore, patients must not ignore any symptoms and immediately consult a doctor if they sense something abnormal.
No, soft tissue sarcomas are not found to be hereditary. However, having certain inherited genetic disorders like neurofibromatosis, retinoblastoma, Li-Fraumeni syndrome and Gardner’s syndrome can increase the risk of soft tissue sarcoma.
This depends on the grade of the tumour. Certain soft tissue sarcomas grow faster, while some grow at a slower rate. It also depends on the patient’s overall condition.
Yes, as the disease advances, the sarcoma can spread to other organs, such as the lymph nodes, the lungs, the liver, the skin, etc.
Following are the few things that soft tissue sarcoma survivors should follow: