About the disease
Soft tissue sarcoma can develop in the muscles, nerves, blood vessels and fat. In most cases, it develops in the limbs and abdominal area. Sometimes, it develops in the trunk or internal organs. Soft tissue sarcoma can develop at any age, but is much rarer than carcinoma, a cancer that develops in epithelial cells. The most common types of soft tissue sarcoma are adult fibrosarcoma, angiosarcoma and epithelioid sarcoma.
The exact cause of soft tissue sarcoma has not been identified, but it has been suggested that a combination of risk factors, such as having a genetic predisposition or damaged lymph system can contribute to its development. It has been suggested that radiation therapy (which is used to treat other types of cancer) and the intake of certain chemicals can also contribute to the development of sarcoma.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 50% of all soft tissue sarcoma cases start in the arms or legs. The most common manifestation of soft tissue sarcoma is a lump, which is not painful. In some cases, the lump does start to hurt, but soft tissue sarcoma is usually found while checking for other conditions, for example a swelling or bruising on the arms or legs upon sustaining an injury.
Statistics show that approximately 20% of all soft tissue sarcoma cases develop in the abdominal area. This can become painful if the tumor is blocking the stomach or interrupting the digestive function of the bowel. In most cases, symptoms depend on the area the lump develops in, and they vary in each individual case. The survival rate for localized soft tissue sarcoma is good, with a 5-year prognosis at 83%.
- A lump, which may or may not be painful
- Blood in the stool, which is an indicator of stomach or bowel bleeding
- The stool can become black, which is another indicator of internal bleeding
- Abdominal pain, if soft tissue sarcoma has developed in the abdomen
- During a general examination, the doctor will examine the lump using palpation, to find out if the patient experiences any pain or discomfort. If it is growing on an arm or leg, the doctor may ask the patient if they recently sustained an injury.
- Imaging tests are likely to be required either way, because injuries rarely manifest themselves in the form of a lump that resemble soft tissue sarcoma.
- The doctor will also feel the abdominal area and ask the patient about their stool, to rule out other causes for abdominal pain.
- Imaging tests, such as ultrasound or MRI and CT scans, allow doctors to examine the tumor more closely and determine its exact location and size.
- A biopsy allows doctors to examine a piece of the tumor under a microscope. If possible, the whole tumor is removed during the biopsy.
- The tumour may be surgically removed, to prevent it from spreading.
- Chemotherapy kills malignant cells and keeps them from scattering.
- Radiotherapy shrinks the tumor and also prevents it from spreading.