Soft tissue sarcoma is a rare cancer type that develops in the soft tissues of our bodies. While this cancer is rare, it has numerous other types as well. And some of those types are so rare that you can easily count the number of patients having them.A possible reason for the rarity may be the nature of this condition, which makes it hard to identify. Also, it is very similar to the other types of growth and is harmless until it grows to an extent. So, ignoring or discard the condition as something else is very easy.
We will cover every aspect of soft tissue sarcomas to rid you of that concern. It will help you develop a better understanding and identification of the condition.
What Is Soft Tissue Sarcoma? What Does It Look Like?
Soft tissues are the supporting tissues in our bodies that offer connection with other tissues surrounding the body organs. These include fat, blood vessels, muscles, tendons, nerves, and the tissues surrounding the joints and bones.
As its name suggests, soft tissue sarcoma is a rare cancer that originates in soft tissues. It can start in any part of the body. However, it is more common in the legs, belly, and arms. And you may be surprised to know that over 50 types of soft tissue sarcoma exist.
Also, there is no specific age group that it affects. There are certain types that affect children, while there are other types that majorly impact adults. Another feature of this cancer is that it is hard to diagnose. That makes the cancer type deadly as it can be mistaken for some other growth.
As you can see from the image, cancer can be characterized by a lump or swelling in the body’s soft tissues. While it may seem painless, it can become very painful as it starts pressing on other organs, muscles, blood vessels, etc.
Soft Tissue Sarcoma Metastasis
You might have come across the term “Metastasis,” which is common in the world of cancer. It simply refers to the spread of cancer cells from the place of origin to other parts of the body. The same is true for soft tissue sarcoma as well.
In the case of sarcomas, the cancer cells make use of the bloodstream or lymph system to travel. After separating from the original tumor, cells form a new tumor by traveling to other body parts. It can involve different organs or tissues. The spread depends on certain factors, such as
- Cancer type
- Rate of growth of cancer
- Resistance to diseases and infection
Types Of Soft Tissue Sarcoma
While there are more than 50 types of this rare type of cancer, some of the most common among them are as follows:
- Epithelioid Sarcoma
- Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST)
- Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans
- Kaposi’s Sarcoma
- Synovial Sarcoma
- Undifferentiated Pleomorphic Sarcoma
- Solitary Fibrous Tumor
- Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumors
Soft Tissue Sarcoma: Symptoms
Since soft tissue sarcoma is very rare and hard to detect, timely and accurate diagnosis becomes crucial. Otherwise, the cancer can go undetected for a long period in the disguise of some other type of growth.
Knowing the symptoms of this cancer type will be a big help in that. They are as follows:
- A lump or swelling which is easily noticeable
- Experiencing pain when its growth presses on the muscles or nerves
- Having problems in breathing
- Uncontrollable stomach pain or pain in the abdomen
- Black or bloody stool
- Vomiting of blood
Also note that about 20% of these sarcomas start from the stomach, and there is a 10% chance of it starting from the head or neck. The most common type in children is Rhabdomyosarcoma. And it happens mostly in those areas of the body.
And since most of the visible lumps do not fall under sarcoma, they seem harmless. Many of these lumps are called lipomas. However, if the lump size is more than 2 inches and it is the reason for extreme pain, consult a doctor immediately.
What Causes Soft Tissue Sarcoma?
A good way to prevent any disease from happening is to know the cause of it. However, the situation with soft tissue sarcoma can be difficult from that point of view. That is because scientists and researchers are still unable to find the exact cause of this cancer. All they know are some of the risk factors that are capable of increasing the chances of this cancer’s development.
But, there has been a lot of progress in the field of researching soft tissue sarcoma. Scientists are now able to understand the effect of change in DNA on normal cells, turning them cancerous. There is also a link between symptoms of other cancers to a high risk of developing soft tissue sarcomas.
In fact, these symptoms are also among the risk factors for this cancer.
Anything that raises the chance of developing a disease counts as a risk factor. There are different risk factors for different diseases. However, our focus will remain on the risk factors for soft tissue sarcoma. The major risk factors are as follows:
- Radiation treatment for other cancers
- Family cancer syndromes such as Gardner syndrome, Retinoblastoma, Neurofibromatosis, Li-freumeni syndrome, Tuberous sclerosis, Werner syndrome, Gorlin syndrome, etc.
- Any damage in the lymph system
- Exposure to chemicals which include vinyl chloride, arsenic, etc.
- HIV infection
Soft Tissue Sarcoma Diagnosis
In order to diagnose soft tissue sarcoma, the first step involves a biopsy (a procedure to remove the body’s tissue or cell samples). Now, there are two types of biopsies to diagnose this cancer. The size & location of the tumor in the body will determine the appropriate type of biopsy.
The types are:
- Core needle biopsy, where a needle is used to remove the tissue.
- Incisional biopsy, where a part of the cell of tissue is removed. It comes into play when it is not safe to use core needle biopsy or there is a need for clear findings.
Also, make sure that a certified professional pathologist checks the biopsy sample. That is because it is very hard to diagnose the condition, and only an experienced pathologist would be of help.
After the tissue removal, the doctor may ask the patient to go through the following tests.
- Flow cytometry
- Molecular profiling
- Light and electron microscopy
- Cytogenetic analysis
- FISH (fluorescence in situ hybridization)
What Are The Different Stages Of Soft Tissue Sarcoma?
Once the condition is diagnosed, the tests determine the spread of cancer cells in the body. Then the pathologist determines the type and grade of the tumor, which also helps in the prognosis of soft tissue sarcoma. The higher the grade, the faster the spread of cancer cells. After grading the sarcoma, doctors determine the stage, which depends on the size and location of the lump.
There are 4 stages, and you should know that the spread of cancer cells is higher in the later stages. Let’s have a look at the staging system by the American Joint Committee for soft tissue sarcoma.
Low-grade cancer with no more than 5 cm of tumor. The spread is not to the lymph nodes or other body parts.
Low-grade cancer, which is more than 5 cm across length. The spread is not to the lymph nodes or other body parts.
Medium or high-grade cancer, which is less than 5 cm (in size). There is no spread to the lymph nodes or other body parts.
Medium-grade cancer, more than 5 cm (in size). There is no spread to the lymph nodes or other body parts.
High-grade cancer, more than 5 cm (in size). The spread may be to the lymph nodes but not the distant body parts.
The size or grade of the cancer can be any, but the spread of cancer cells is to distant parts of the body.
Can Soft Tissue Sarcoma Be Cured? What Are The Treatment Options?
While the condition is curable, the cure mostly depends on the stage and degree of cancer. The treatment options available for soft tissue sarcoma are as follows:
- Radiation therapy
There are other targeted treatment options being discovered with the advancement in science and technology. They include targeted therapy and the use of immunotherapy drugs. The chance of success of treatment will depend on the stage. Although, the earlier stages are not life-threatening. Even the later stages can be cured in some cases.
Stage 1 Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treatment Option
If the stage 1 tumor is in the arm or legs, the treatment is possible with surgery alone. It removes the tumor along with some of the surrounding tissues. There is a chance that some parts of the cancer cells remain in the body if the removed tissue has cancer cells around its edges. The removal of the remaining cells is also possible with surgery.
The other available option for the first stage is radiation therapy. It reduces the chances of the cancer coming back.
However, if the tumor is in the head, neck, or abdomen, the use of surgery becomes a lot more difficult. In that case, radiation with the follow-up of chemotherapy before the surgery would be appropriate. This process shrinks the size of the tumor, making it possible to remove it with surgery.
Stage 2 & 3 Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treatment Option
Most of the tumors in these stages are high-grade, growing, and spreading quickly. The main form of treatment is the removal of tumors with surgery in stage 2 & 3 sarcoma. It also involves the removal of lymph nodes that contain cancer. The surgery may be followed up with radiation therapy.
The use of chemotherapy and radiation before surgery also becomes an option if the location of the tumor makes surgery difficult. The goal of this treatment is to reduce the tumor’s size, to make it easier to remove. It also reduces the chances of the tumor coming back around the same area.
Stage 4 Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treatment Option
Stage 4 soft tissue sarcoma is the last stage of this cancer. As we already mentioned, cancer spreads to many different parts of the body. That makes it extremely difficult to cure. However, the cure is possible if surgery can remove cancer from every part of the body containing cancer.
The highest rate of success in the treatment is when the spread is only to the lungs. However, there is still some disagreement on what treatment would be the best for stage 4 sarcoma.
How Long Do Soft Tissue Sarcoma Patients Survive(With Prognosis)?
There was an estimate of more than 13,000 people in the US to be diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma. Out of those, the estimate of deaths is over 5,000 from the condition. The numbers might give you some idea of the survival of the ones suffering.
However, the 5-year survival rate is a different story. The rate is over 65% for soft tissue sarcoma, in general. The rate of 5-year survival is different for localized sarcoma and is generally higher. The rates are 81% for localized sarcoma, 58% for locally advanced stage, and 17% for metastatic sarcoma.
If soft tissue sarcoma is caught early on, the prognosis is usually better. That is why it is a good idea to consult a doctor as soon as you find any symptoms.
The factors that determine the prognosis include everything that affects the cancer and its treatment. The doctor also includes the estimates of past research on people with the same type and stage. However, do note that the prognosis will only give you an idea and not a clear & accurate picture.
How Can A Comprehensive Cancer Center Help?
We have already emphasized the fact that the condition is hard to detect and treat. That is why you should only rely on the experts. And there is no place better than a comprehensive center that specializes in cancer. There are many benefits to choosing these centers, such as:
- Latest technology and research-based treatment & diagnosis
- Multidisciplinary approach
- Highly experienced healthcare professionals
University Cancer Centers is one such cancer care center where you can get
- Best treatment plans tailored to the need of the cancer patient
- Accurate diagnosis & reports
- Personalized care before as well as after the treatment
- Highly qualified and experienced team of healthcare experts
We understand the value of timely diagnosis and treatment when it comes to cancer. Our team always looks out for every cancer patient that comes to us. On top of that, we also recommend lifestyle changes that can prolong the life of the patient, even if it’s just a little.
Is There Any Way To Prevent Soft Tissue Sarcoma?
We have already looked at what the disease is and how problematic it can be, not just for humans but also for cats and dogs. But the real question is, “Is it possible to prevent soft tissue sarcoma?” If yes, how.
According to the American Cancer Society, there is just one way to prevent this cancer. It is by avoiding exposure to the risk factors (which we talked about earlier) as much as possible. Apart from that, there is no known way to prevent soft tissue sarcoma. There is also no evidence of making lifestyle changes that can affect the condition.
There are not many significant studies on the QOL (quality of life) of sarcoma patients. So, it would be difficult to describe the average life of the patient suffering from this type of cancer. However, there are certain complications in this disease, even if they are rare. And that is why, despite being rare, the condition is alarming. In fact, anyone suffering from any type of cancer goes through hard times that we cannot even comprehend.
And with a lack of research on the subject of soft tissue sarcoma, there are hardly any ways to prevent it. The cause of the disease is also not evident, and all there is to do is to avoid the risk factors.
We hope that the blog was able to help you provide the necessary information you were looking for. For more detailed information, you can contact our specialized team of experts. And we will do our best to be with you every step of the way and help wherever is needed.