Sarah Cannon - December 14, 2015

Sarcoma is a type of cancer that originates in the bones or soft tissues of the body: muscle, tendons, fat, lymph vessels, blood vessels, nerves and tissue around joints. While the tumors can be found anywhere in the body, they form most often in the arms and legs (43 percent). Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Soft tissue sarcoma accounts for less than 1 percent of all cancer cases. Researchers continue to explore risk factors associated with this rare type of cancer. Potential factors include:

Survival Rates for Sarcoma

In 2014, approximately 12,000 people were diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma. The five-year survival rate is higher for those diagnosed with localized sarcomas (cancer confined to primary site) Ñ 83 percent compared to 54 percent for regional stage sarcomas (cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes or tissues). When sarcomas spread to distant parts of the body, the five-year survival rate is closer to 15 percent.

Symptoms of Sarcoma and Diagnostic Tests

Soft tissue sarcoma can be difficult to recognize as it can occur anywhere in the body, usually beginning as a painless lump or swelling under the skin. Because sarcoma typically occurs in flexible tissues in the body, it may take time for it to physically appear. Most soft tissue lumps are caused by non-cancerous fat cells, called lipomas, and not sarcoma. It is important to check with a physician if you suspect a lump.

As a sarcoma lump grows and presses on nearby organs, nerves, muscles or blood vessels, it can cause difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, and blood in the stools or vomit. If a patient experiences symptoms of sarcoma, a biopsy is done to determine its presence, with samples taken from the primary tumor, lymph nodes and other suspicious areas.

Any of the following tests may be performed on the biopsied tissue:

  • Immunohistochemistry - checking for antigens to identify differences between different types of cancer
  • Light and electron microscopy - looking for certain changes in the cells
  • Cytogenetic analysis - looking for certain changes in the chromosomes
  • FISH (fluorescence in situ hybridization) Ñ looking at genes or chromosomes in cells and tissues
  • Flow cytometry - measuring the number of cells in a sample, the percentage of live cells in a sample, and certain characteristics of cells, such as size, shape, and the presence of tumor markers on the cell surface.


American Cancer Society
American Joint Committee on Cancer
Medline Plus: Soft Tissue Sarcoma
National Cancer Institute (NCI): Soft Tissue Sarcoma
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN)
NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms
Sarcoma Alliance