Soft Tissue Sarcomas Symptoms & Causes

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What are soft tissue sarcomas?

Soft tissue sarcomas are cancerous tumors that begin in the tissues that connect, support or surround organs and other body structures. Soft tissue includes fat, muscles, tendons, nerves, joint tissue, blood vessels and other fibrous tissue.

  • A soft tissue sarcoma can develop almost anywhere in the body.
  • The cause is unknown, but has been linked to genetics.
  • It is rare, accounting for less than 1 percent of all new cancer cases each year and 3 percent of all childhood tumors.
  • Treatment may involve surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy.
  • It may exist for a long time before being discovered.

Types of soft tissue sarcomas

There are many different types of soft tissue sarcoma including:

  • Rhabdomyosarcoma is a tumor of skeletal muscles and the most common soft tissue sarcoma.
  • Desmoid tumor (also called aggressive fibromytosis) affects the fibrous tissue that makes up tendons and ligaments.
  • Infantile fibrosarcoma is a tumor that develops in the tissue that forms tendons and ligaments.
  • Leiomyosarcoma is a tumor that develops in involuntary muscle tissue, usually found in the abdomen, bowels, uterus, and blood vessels.
  • Liposarcoma is a tumor that develops in fat tissue, most often in the abdominal cavity.
  • Malignant fibrous histiocytoma is a tumor that begins in the fibrous tissue in the legs.
  • Peripheral nerve sheath tumor is a tumor that develops in the cells that surround nerves.
  • Synovial cell sarcoma is a tumor that develops in the tissue around joints, usually in the knee.

What causes soft tissue sarcomas?

The exact cause of soft tissue sarcomas is not entirely understood, however, studies have indicated that your genes may play a role. Other theories include the following.

  • Limited studies have shown a possible link between soft tissue sarcomas and the development of other types of cancer.
  • Some inherited diseases have also been associated with an increased risk of developing soft tissue sarcomas including Li-Fraumeni syndrome or neurofibromatosis.
  • For some soft tissue tumors, there seems to an association with an Epstein-Barr virus infection.

Are soft tissue sarcomas common?

As a group, soft tissue sarcomas (other than rhabdomysarcoma, which is slightly more common), account for less than 1 percent of all new cancer cases each year and 3 percent of all childhood tumors. In the United States, about 900 children and adolescents are diagnosed with soft tissue sarcomas each year.

What are the symptoms of soft tissue sarcomas?

Soft tissue sarcomas affect tissue that is elastic and easily moved, which means a tumor may exist for a long time before being discovered, growing large and pushing aside surrounding tissue. While symptoms may vary, the most common include:

  • painless swelling or lump
  • pain or soreness caused by compressed nerves or muscles
  • limping or other difficulty using the legs and feet
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