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Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Soft tissue sarcomas are rare cancerous tumors that begin in the muscle, fat, nerves, tendons, blood vessels or connective tissues. There are roughly 50 types of soft tissue sarcomas. They can appear anywhere in the body, but most are found in an arm or leg or the abdomen (stomach) area.

The first symptom of a soft tissue sarcoma is often a painless lump under the skin, usually on an arm or leg or in the stomach area. You may have no other symptoms at first.

Soft tissue sarcomas may spread to other areas of the body — most commonly the lungs, but also to lymph nodes in some cases.

Soft tissue sarcoma: what you should know

  • Often, the cause of a soft tissue sarcoma is unknown. These are some known causes:
    • Genetic disorders (passed down from parents to children)
    • Radiation exposure
    • Exposure to high doses of certain chemicals
    • Human herpes virus 8, which causes one specific type of soft tissue sarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma.
  • Soft tissue sarcomas occur in both children and adults; however, adults with soft tissue sarcomas respond differently to treatment than children.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common type of soft tissue sarcoma seen in children. These tumors can occur in many places in the body but are usually found in the head and neck, reproductive organs, urinary system, arms and legs.
  • An important part of soft tissue sarcoma care at Rush is the Center for Limb Preservation. Surgeons at Rush were among the first in Illinois to do limb-sparing surgical procedures for people with soft tissue sarcomas.

How can I get help for soft tissue sarcoma?

Call your doctor or your child’s doctor right away if you notice a new lump under the skin or a lump plus any of the following symptoms:

  • Pain in the area around the lump
  • Weakness
  • Trouble breathing (this can happen if the tumor is in the neck)
  • Abdominal (stomach) pain that is getting worse
  • Blood in the stool or vomit
  • Black, sticky stools (this can be a sign of bleeding in the stomach or bowels)

Care for soft tissue sarcomas at Rush

At Rush, children and adults with soft tissue sarcomas are cared for by a team of specialists, who work together to create personalized treatment plans. Your care team may include the following:

  • Pediatric oncologists
  • Medical oncologists
  • Orthopedic surgeons
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Physiatrists (physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors)
  • Other specialists as needed

Treatment plans are based on three factors:

  • Your age
  • The type and location of the cancer
  • How advanced the cancer is

Doctors may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • Surgery to remove the tumor. If the cancer affects the limbs, surgeons at Rush perform limb-sparing procedures whenever possible.
  • Different types of chemotherapy. Your doctors may choose to use two or more drugs together as a combination therapy. Chemotherapy may be used before and/or after surgery.
  • Radiation treatments before or after surgery. Patients are treated by a member of the radiation oncology team who specializes in soft tissue sarcomas.

Why choose Rush for soft tissue sarcoma care

  • Experience matters: The number of patients who come to Rush for bone cancer (bone sarcomas) and soft tissue sarcomas is among the highest in Illinois.
  • Access to the latest clinical trials: Partnerships with the National Cancer Institute and the Children's Oncology Group allow doctors at Rush to offer all of the latest clinical trials for soft tissue sarcomas.
  • Convenience: If an amputation is necessary, Rush offers on-site prosthetics services. Specialists will go over your options and make sure you are properly fitted with the right prosthetic.
  • Outstanding cancer care: The Rush University Cancer Center received the 2014 Outstanding Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons' Commission on Cancer. Rush received this triennial award all four times since the award was created in 2004. The award recognizes programs that excel in providing quality cancer care.

Departments and programs that treat this condition