Soft Tissue Sarcoma FAQs
What is soft tissue sarcoma?
Soft tissue sarcoma is the growth of abnormal cells that form a mass (tumour)in the body’s soft tissues such as muscles, tendons, blood vessels, nerves, fat, and joints, but not in the organs such as the lungs, breasts or colon that perform specific functions. Soft tissue sarcomas are of more than 50 types, though the majority of them start in the limbs.
What are the symptoms of a soft tissue sarcoma?
A painless lump or swelling is the most common symptom of a soft tissue sarcoma. The soft tissue around the tumour is relatively elastic and thus it cannot be felt in its early stages, but as the tumour grows, it causes pain or soreness as it presses against surrounding nerves or muscles. These symptoms may not necessarily mean that you have soft tissue sarcoma, but you should have your doctor examine the affected area.
How is soft tissue sarcoma diagnosed?
The doctor will ask about your medical history and carry out a physical exam. An ultrasound, CT scan or MRI also enables the doctor to determine the location and spread of the growth. A biopsy is the only way to know for certain whether cancer is present. In this procedure, a pathologist examines a small sample of tumour tissue under a microscope. If cancer cells are found, he determines the stage or grade of the tumour, which tells whether the cancer is spreading. Your doctor may refer you to
a specialist in soft tissue sarcoma, based on the biopsy results.
Are all sarcomas the same?
No, all sarcomas are not the same; some grow slowly while others are highly malignant and may be beyond cure when first diagnosed.
What kinds of people get sarcomas?
Sarcomas do not spare anyone at any age. Different kinds of sarcomas occur at different ages. There is no specific personality type that is more prone to sarcoma than others.
What determines whether I have a ‘good’ or ‘bad’
The risk factors for survival from sarcoma are location, size, spread, grade (an important term during the pathological analysis), and special characteristics of the tumour determined after biopsy.
What is meant by the term ‘grade’ when referring to sarcomas?
Grade is a term used to describe the measure of how aggressive the tumour could become. It is given by the pathologist examining the tissue. Whereas low-grade tumours stay confined to one place, highgrade tumours can spread elsewhere.
Where can soft tissue sarcomas spread?
The spread of soft tissue sarcomas depend on where theystart. If they are inside the abdomen, they can spread to the liver. High-grade soft tissue tumours of the limbsusually spread to the lung. A physician with experience in the management of sarcoma can tell you what your risks are, and where the tumour might spread.
Is sarcoma fatal?
Soft tissue sarcoma has a high cure rate. In cases where it is detected early, about 90 per cent of patients have a five-year survival rate. Improvements in treatments are making prognosis for patients even more favourable.
What are the important questions to ask my doctor before treatment?
The most important thing is to be certain that you are talking to a doctor who has knowledge and experience in the management of sarcoma. It is very important to see a doctor who knows about such tumours as the disease is very rare. This is to make sure that you not only get the best treatment, but also avoid getting more treatment than needed. Sarcoma specialists usually work with a team consisting of the best and most experienced pathologists, radiologists and other professionals to help.
What are the treatment options for soft tissue sarcoma?
Advances in diagnosis and treatment have given patients of soft tissue sarcoma the possibility of a longer and productive life. Improved surgical techniques, chemotherapy and radiation therapy have substantially decreased the need for amputations. Treatment is based on parameters such as the size, location, and growth rate of the tumour, and the general health and age of the patient. Surgery is the most common treatment for soft tissue sarcoma, and it completely removes the tumour and a safe margin of the tissue around it. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be recommended depending on the outcome of the surgery. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancercells. It is usually given in cycles, with alternating periods of treatment and rest. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to damage cancer cells and discontinue their growth. It is often given five days a week for five to six weeks in the outpatient department of a clinic or hospital. It can limit the risk of a local recurrence.
When is chemotherapy administered?
Chemotherapy is given either for very highrisk sarcomas before an operation, or in certain cases where the tumour has spread.
When will I know if I am cured?
Cure is difficult to evaluate. Recurrence happens in the first two years after treatment for 70 per cent of patients. Some experience a very late recurrence, so patients with sarcoma are usually monitored for at least ten years. The latter can be readily and effectively treated.
Does sarcoma run in families?
Though sarcoma can occur in families, it is a very rare occurrence. Often there is a predisposing disease that can lead to an increased frequency of sarcoma. If your doctor is familiar with sarcoma, he or she will be familiar with those diseases.
Why is sarcoma difficult to diagnose?
Sarcoma is so rare that few doctors will ever come across a patient with sarcoma in all their years of practice. Even though they might see benign lumps and bumps often, it is unlikely to be sarcoma. Generally, any swelling larger than five cm or deep-seated needs evaluation.
Can injury cause sarcoma?
Sarcoma caused by injury is very rare. It is more common for patients to first notice a sarcoma when they bump a lump on their leg or on their arm. Who should treat sarcoma? It is imperative to consult a doctor who is familiar with sarcoma. It is of less concern whether that doctor is a surgical oncologist (specialist operating on cancers), an orthopaedic (bone) oncologist, a radiation oncologist, or a medical oncologist than having a doctor who is familiar with the 96 disease.