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Soft Tissue Sarcoma: Stages, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatment, Survival Rate

About Soft Tissue Sarcomas

Sarcoma is a malignant growth, simply put, cancer. A sarcoma is a type of cancer, which begins in tissues, like muscle or bone. This article discusses the soft tissue sarcoma, its stages, the symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, treatment, and survival rate.

Soft tissue sarcomas, along with bone are considered as the main types of sarcoma. Soft tissue sarcomas develop in soft tissues, such as muscle, fat, fibrous tissues, nerves, blood vessels, or even in deep skin tissues. You will find them in any portion of the body. The majority of them begin in the legs or arms. They are also found in the neck and head areas, trunk, and internal organs and in retroperitoneum. However, sarcomas aren’t usual tumors.

Stages of Soft Tissue Sarcomas

Stages of Soft Tissue Sarcomas

If a diagnosis of soft tissue sarcoma is made, the severity, extent, and its spread must be evaluated. The staging of soft tissue sarcoma is useful for this. It is necessary for the planning of further management. It also helps in determining the seriousness of the disease and the best way to treat it.

Stages of soft tissue sarcoma help to give a general idea of the prognosis and to discuss the survival figures. Clinical staging of cancer is important to determine patient outcomes. TNM classification, with tumor size, nodal status, and presence or absence of metastatic disease, is commonly used to assess the risk and stage of cancer. In soft tissue sarcomas, tumor grade is an important prognostic factor.1

The stages of soft tissue sarcoma include

  1. Stage I
  2. Stage II
  3. Stage III
  4. Stage IV

Generally, when the number is lower, then you can hope that cancer has spread less. Again, a higher number, like stage IV indicates that cancer has spread to other parts of the body. However, every person’s experience of cancer is exclusive but cancers with a similar stage are habitually treated in a similar process.

Symptoms of Soft Tissue Sarcomas

One of the most common symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma is a painless lump. However, some of them might not become noticeable until they become big enough and start pressing their nearby nerves or muscles. Nearly one in five soft tissue sarcomas occur in the patient’s belly. However, a person doesn’t notice it until it causes other problems, like stomach pain, blocked intestine, or bleeding. The symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma depend on the location of the lump.

A physician may often discover a sarcoma in the chest or lungs only after the person suffers from troubled breathing or chest pain. Sometimes, sarcomas start in the neck or head. A common type of soft tissue sarcoma in children is known as rhabdomyosarcoma.

You must see your doctor if:

  • You see a growing lump in some part of your body.
  • You suffer from stomach pain and if it becomes worse.
  • You have been vomiting blood.
  • Your stool turns bloody or black.

Again, it is also a factor that most of the visible lumps are not a sarcoma. They are commonly an innocent cluster of fat cells, known as a lipoma. However, when you have a lump which is bigger than a couple of inches and growing, you must consult your doctor.

Risk Factors of Soft Tissue Sarcomas

Scientists aren’t fully aware of what causes soft tissue sarcomas but they have discovered a few risk factors which can put people at risk to develop these kinds of cancers. Few of these factors affect the genes in the soft tissue cells. Transformation in the genes can add to the possible causes of soft tissue sarcomas. Genes comprise the DNA and carry the formula for making proteins. There are some genes that contain the instructions meant for proteins, which control when cells should grow or divide.

  • Some genes endorse cell division, known as oncogenes.
  • Some slow down cell division or make cells to die at a correct time and they are known as tumor suppressor genes.
  • DNA mutations can also be the cause of cancers which turn on oncogenes or at times, turn off tumor suppressor genes.

Family cancer syndromes may have inherited DNA mutations, which cause a serious risk of developing colon, kidney, breast, eye, or other kinds of cancers. A few of these syndromes are also connected to an increased risk of emerging soft tissue sarcomas. These syndromes are the result of defects in genes which can be inherited from a parent. A few of these gene defects can be discovered through testing too.

Studies suggest the following,2

People with AIDS are at greater risk of soft tissue sarcoma called Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Some studies suggest that people working in certain occupations like construction, farming, machine manufacturing were found to be at greater risk of soft tissue sarcomas.
High doses of radiation could increase the risk of soft tissue sarcomas and malignant bone tumors.

Certain factors like gestational age, birth order, presence of an inguinal hernia, are also considered to assess the risk factors of soft tissue sarcoma in children.

Diagnosis of Soft Tissue Sarcomas

As there are different kinds of soft tissue sarcomas, it becomes important to determine the precise nature of every tumor. It will help in getting the finest treatments which can be selected. They are:

Imaging Tests: Diagnosis of soft tissue sarcomas can be confirmed by investigations like:

Biopsy to Diagnose Soft Tissue Sarcoma: A biopsy is the best way to confirm the diagnosis of If soft tissue sarcoma. An experienced and skilled doctor can plan the most appropriate biopsy technique from the following

Surgical Biopsy: Some times, doctors advice surgery to get a huge sample of tissue or for complete removal of a little tumor.

Core Needle Biopsy: In this, small samples of tumor material are obtained for study. A doctor commonly attempts to take samples from various parts of the tumor.

In the laboratory, a doctor trained in analyzing body tissues tests the tissue sample for any changes pointing towards cancer. Again, the pathologist analyzes the samples to determine the type of cancer, and whether it is aggressive or low grade.

Treatment of Soft Tissue Sarcomas

The treatment of soft tissue sarcoma varies based on the type, size, and the tumor’s location.

Surgery: It is viewed as the common treatment process for soft tissue sarcoma. Generally, surgery involves removing the cancerous as well as healthy tissue surrounding it. When soft tissue sarcoma affects the legs and arms, radiation and chemotherapy are considered for shrinking the tumor.

Radiation Therapy for Soft Tissue Sarcomas: Radiation therapy involves treating cancer with the help of high-powered energy beams. Its options comprise:

Prior to Surgery: Radiation prior to surgery can help in shrinking the tumor. This makes it easier to remove the tumor.

At the time of Surgery: Intraoperative radiation permits a high dose of radiation for delivering the rays to the target area directly and it spares the surrounding tissues.

Post-surgery: Post-operative radiation helps in killing the remaining cancer cells.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is viewed as a drug treatment which uses chemicals for killing cancer cells. This kind of treatment is administered with the help of pills or intravenously (through a vein). Some types of soft tissue sarcomas respond to chemotherapy better than others. For example, chemotherapy is often used for treating rhabdomyosarcoma.

Targeted Drug Treatment for Soft Tissue Sarcoma: Some types of soft tissue sarcomas come with particular features in their cells, which can be attacked through targeted drug treatments. They work in an improved way compared to chemotherapy and they aren’t toxic too. Targeted treatments have been specifically useful in cases of gastrointestinal stromal tumors.

Survival Rates of Soft Tissue Sarcomas

Generally, the prediction of survival rates of soft tissue sarcoma is better when it is diagnosed during the early stages. The 5-year survival rates for this disease are:

  • Commonly, the 5-year rate of survival for soft tissue sarcomas happens to be nearly 65%.
  • The 5-year rate of survival for cancer, which has reached the close-by lymph nodes or organs is nearly 50%.
  • When soft tissue sarcoma spreads to other parts of your body, the 5-year survival rate becomes only 18%.
  • These numbers are a prediction and can get adjusted as some people suffering from soft tissue sarcoma die from various other causes too.


A fair understanding of soft tissue sarcoma, its stages, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and survival rate helps in making better decisions. If you have been suffering from soft tissue sarcoma, you can ask your doctor about what you might expect from the treatment. Usually, the survival rates are also discussed. However, it is important to keep in mind that statistics are grounded on a huge number of people, so, they can’t be used for saying what will happen in a particular case. Remember, no two people are exactly the same and so, people’s responses to treatment also vary.


Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 6, 2021

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