Sarcoma treatment depends on the type and stage of sarcoma you have. Some sarcomas as curable, while others are treatable:
- Curable sarcomas can be completely removed. Treatment focuses on preventing them from recurring (coming back). Many stage I, II and III sarcomas are curable.
- Treatable sarcomas cannot be completely removed. Treatment is used to help control the sarcoma. Generally, stage IV or metastatic sarcoma is considered treatable.
Types of Treatments for Soft Tissue Sarcoma
Treatments for soft tissue sarcoma can include:
- Surgery: Surgery is used to remove the tumor and some nearby healthy tissue. Small, low-grade sarcomas can often be removed by surgery. Higher grade or larger sarcomas may require radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy before or after surgery.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy may be recommended before surgery to shrink the tumor or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. Radiation therapy uses radiation, like high-energy X-rays, to destroy cancer cells or prevent them from growing.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells or stop them from dividing. Chemotherapy is generally given by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle. The treatment may be used to shrink the tumor before radiation therapy or surgery.
- Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy uses drugs to identify and kill specific cancer cells, causing less harm to normal, healthy cells than radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy involves treatments that use the immune system to fight cancer.
Another treatment option may be a clinical trial. Clinical trials are research studies designed to help improve current cancer treatments or study new cancer treatments. Clinical trials provide the standard of care or better. They have made possible many of the treatments available today.
The following treatments are used based on the sarcoma’s stage:
- Stage I: In stage I, the sarcoma can often be removed by surgery. You may need radiation therapy before or after surgery.
- Stage II: Because stage II sarcoma can grow and spread rapidly, treatment often includes surgery and radiation therapy. If the tumor is in a hard-to-reach location, radiation therapy may be used first to shrink the tumor. This is called neoadjuvant treatment. If the tumor can be completely removed with surgery, your oncologist may recommend radiation therapy afterward to reduce the chance of recurrence. This is called adjuvant treatment.
- Stage III: Stage III sarcoma can also grow and spread quickly. Treatment for stage III sarcoma typically involves surgery and radiation. Sometimes, chemotherapy is recommended. Radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of the two therapies may be used before or after surgery to shrink the tumor or reduce the risk of recurrence.
- Stage IV: Stage IV sarcoma has spread (metastasized) to other areas of the body. For metastatic soft tissue sarcoma, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are usually the first-line treatments. These treatments can help slow the growth of the tumors. Additionally, palliative treatments can be used to minimize symptoms and treatment side effects. Some people benefit from surgery to remove individual tumors, such as those growing on the lungs or liver. Other people are closely monitored and only require treatment if the tumor starts to grow.
Your side effects depend on your diagnosis and the type of treatments you receive. Ask your physician about side effects you may experience and how to manage them.
Side effects from surgery may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Swelling, drainage, bruising, numbness, bleeding or infection at the surgical site
- Lymphedema (swelling in an arm or leg because of a blockage in the lymphatic system) if lymph nodes are removed
- Organ dysfunction (temporary problems with nearby organs)
Side effects from radiation therapy may include:
- Skin dryness, blistering, peeling or itching
- Dry mouth
- Trouble swallowing
- Hair loss
- Mouth and gum sores
- Jaw stiffness
- Tooth decay
Side effects from chemotherapy may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Hair loss
- Risk of infection
- Muscle pain
- Nerve damage and related pain
- Stomach pain
- Mouth and throat sores
- Blood disorders
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Sexual issues
- Heart problems
Targeted therapy side effects may include:
- Liver problems
- Issues with wound healing and blood clotting
- Mouth sores
- High blood pressure
- Nail changes
- Hair loss
- Skin problems, like dryness or a rash
- Rarely, a hole in the wall of the gallbladder, rectum, small intestine, large bowel, stomach or esophagus
There are many ways to help manage your side effects, so talk to your oncologist about what’s right for you.
Cancer and treatment can also have social, emotional and financial effects. Talk to your social worker or oncologist about resources like mental health counseling, financial counseling, support groups and more.