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Soft tissue sarcoma is a rare, but serious, cancer that starts in the soft tissues of your body. Soft tissues connect, support and surround other body parts. Examples of soft tissues include muscle, fat, blood vessels, nerves, tendons and the lining of your joints (synovial tissues).
Sarcoma: What You Need to Know
Soft tissue sarcoma is managed best by a group of specialists in musculoskeletal oncology, pediatric hematology and oncology, adult hematology and oncology, surgical oncology, orthopedic surgery, radiation oncology and pathology. At The University of Vermont Medical Center, our physicians, nurses and support staff work together as a team, providing expert care.
Every patient is unique. You and your family will feel the advantages of personalized, patient-centered care. We optimize your treatment to your specific soft tissue sarcoma diagnosis.
Experienced, Trusted Expertise
The UVM Medical Center's staff physicians are board-certified orthopedic surgeons and have additional specialty training in adult and pediatric oncology. Our doctors are University of Vermont College of Medicine faculty members and are involved in research, and in the education of the College of Medicine students and orthopedic surgery residents.
What is Soft Tissue Sarcoma?
Soft tissue sarcoma can happen anywhere in your body, but the most common types of soft tissue sarcoma are gastrointestinal stromal tumors and soft tissue sarcoma that affects the extremities. Approximately 60 percent of soft tissue sarcomas happen in the arms, legs, buttocks, hands or feet. Another 20 percent occur in the chest and abdomen, and roughly 10 percent in the head and neck.
Sarcoma is cancer that starts in the muscles, tendons or cartilage, or bones (musculoskeletal oncology).
Although there is a variety of soft tissue sarcoma, generally they share similar characteristics, have similar symptoms and are treated in similar ways. The different types of soft tissue sarcoma are based on the tissue where the cancer began. Some soft tissue sarcoma and their locations include:
- Kaposi's sarcoma: A cancer that happens in blood vessel walls, and often affects people with immune deficiencies, such as HIV/AIDS.
- Synovial sarcoma: Cancer in the tissue around joints such as knees and ankles that typically happens in children and young adults.
- Rhabdomyosarcoma: More common in children, this sarcoma occurs in the skeletal muscles.
- Leiomyosarcoma: Happens in the muscles not under voluntary control (called smooth muscles) and is most commonly found in the uterus, gastrointestinal tract or lining of blood vessels.
- Hemangiosarcoma: Affects blood vessels, especially in areas of previous radiation treatment.
- Lymphangiosarcoma: This cancer can be from an area of prior radiation therapy or certain rare chronic infections. It happens in the lymph vessels and is sometimes seen in a limb with chronic swelling (lymphedema).
- Neurofibrosarcoma: Happens in the peripheral nerves.
- Liposarcoma: Affects fatty tissue, often in the legs and trunk.
- Fibrosarcoma: May happen in the fibrous tissue in your arms, legs or trunk.
- Malignant fibrous histiocytoma: A fibrous tissue tumor more likely to occur in the legs.
- Dermatofibrosarcoma: This cancer grows in the tissue beneath your skin and often develops in your trunk or limbs.
Soft tissue sarcoma usually doesn't have symptoms in the early stages. As a tumor grows it may produce symptoms that include:
- A noticeable lump or swelling
- Pain, if it presses on nerves or muscles
- A blockage in the stomach or intestines or gastrointestinal bleeding if the tumor is located in the abdomen or digestive tract
Kaposi's sarcoma is caused by a virus called human herpes virus 8 (HHV-8). The exact cause of most soft tissue sarcoma is unknown, but several factors can increase your risk of developing it, including:
- Rare inherited genetic conditions: Certain uncommon genetic disorders passed through families increase the risk of soft tissue sarcoma, including:
- Li-Fraumeni syndrome
- Hereditary retinoblastoma
- Basal cell nevus syndrome
- Gardner's syndrome
- Tuberous sclerosis
- Werner's syndrome
- Radiation exposure: Previous exposure to large doses of radiation, such as those given during radiation therapy for cancer, increases the risk of future soft tissue sarcoma
- Chemical exposure: Previous exposure to high doses of chemicals, including:
- Vinyl chloride, which is used to make plastics
- Dioxin is an unwanted byproduct from burning things such as trash
- Herbicides containing the chemical phenoxyacetic acid
- Age: Soft tissue sarcoma can happen at any age but usually occurs in older adults. However, certain types of sarcoma are more common in children and young adults
Diagnosis and Treatment: Sarcoma
The UVM Medical Center's physicians are highly trained in performing procedures to diagnose and treat soft tissue sarcoma such as chemotherapy and surgery. Should your tumor require surgery, you can rest assured in the knowledge that our orthopedic surgeons are greatly skilled in performing advanced surgical procedures for soft tissue sarcoma.
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