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About Sarcomas

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:

  • Muscles
  • Tendons (fibers that connect your muscles to the bones)
  • Fibrous tissues (tissues that hold bone, muscles and organs in place)
  • Fat
  • Blood vessels
  • Nerves
  • 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…


Fat tissue

Thigh, behind knee, back of abdomen


Smooth muscle

Back of abdomen, internal organs, blood vessels


Skeletal muscle

Arms or legs

Neurofibrosarcomas/ malignant schwannomas / neurogenic sarcomas

Cells that surround the nerve

Nervous system

Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST)

Digestive tract

Digestive tract

Synovial sarcoma

Tissue that surrounds joints

Knee and ankle


Blood or lymph vessels

Part of body that was treated with radiation


Fibrous tissue

Legs, arms, trunk

Malignant mesenchymoma



Alveolar softpart sarcoma



Epithelioid 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.

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Last Updated: 10-27-2015
Wake Forest Baptist Ranked among Nation’s ‘Best Hospitals’  25 Years in a Row by U.S. News & World ReportComprehensive Cancer Centers National Designation is Renewed2017-2018 Best DoctorsNursing Magnet StatusJoint Commission Report

Disclaimer: The information on this website is for general informational purposes only and SHOULD NOT be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice, evaluation or care from your physician or other qualified health care provider.

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