Sarcomas refer to malignant (cancerous) tumors that develop in the soft tissue or bones. Soft tissue is tissue that connects or supports other organs in the body. Soft tissue sarcomas are different from bone sarcomas, which develop in the bone and cartilage.
At the Comprehensive Cancer Center, we treat both soft tissue sarcomas and bone sarcomas. Our orthopaedic oncologists manage bone sarcomas, while our surgical oncologists direct the treatment of soft tissue sarcomas.
What is soft tissue?
Types of soft tissue include:
- Tendons (fibers that connect your muscles to the bones)
- Fibrous tissues (tissues that hold bone, muscles and organs in place)
- Blood vessels
- Synovial tissue (tissue that lines the joints, tendon sheaths and sacs between tendons and bones)
- Deep skin tissue
Soft tissue sarcomas, no matter where they originate, have similar characteristics and are diagnosed and treated similarly. Generally, the specific type of cancer is named after the body part in which it was found.
Types of Soft Tissue Sarcomas
Name of sarcoma
Tissue it originates in
Commonly develops in…
Thigh, behind knee, back of abdomen
Back of abdomen, internal organs, blood vessels
Arms or legs
Neurofibrosarcomas/ malignant schwannomas / neurogenic sarcomas
Cells that surround the nerve
Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST)
Tissue that surrounds joints
Knee and ankle
Blood or lymph vessels
Part of body that was treated with radiation
Legs, arms, trunk
Alveolar softpart sarcoma
Skin of hands, forearms, feet, lower legs
Clear cell sarcoma
Tendons of arms or legs
Desmoplsatic small round cell tumor
Pleomorphic undifferentiated sarcoma / malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH)
Arms or legs
Spindle cell tumor
Soft Tissue Sarcoma Symptoms
Often, the only symptom of a soft tissue sarcoma is a lump or mass. More than half of sarcomas start on the arm or leg; perhaps you noticed a lump growing there. The lump may be painful, but it may not hurt at all because a sarcoma may not cause any symptoms. That is why it is crucial to see a doctor right away if you feel a lump or a change in your body. The lump may or may not be cancerous, but only a trained doctor can make that determination.
If the sarcoma begins in the abdomen, it may cause pain or bleeding.
See your doctor if you experience any of the following:
- A growing lump anywhere on your body
- Abdominal pain that worsens
- Blood in stool or vomit
- Black, tarry stools
Because there are so few symptoms in the early stages, most soft tissue sarcomas are only found after they metastasized (spread to other organs).
Learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of sarcomas at Wake Forest.