Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the formal ranking system used by the PDQ Editorial Boards to assess evidence supporting the use of specific interventions or approaches. It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians who care for cancer patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions.
Soft tissue sarcomas are malignant tumors that arise in any of the mesodermal tissues of the extremities (50%), trunk and retroperitoneum (40%), or head and neck (10%). The reported international incidence rates range from 1.8 to 5 per 100,000 per year.
Risk Factors and Genetic Factors
The risk of sporadic soft tissue sarcomas is increased by prior radiation therapy and, in the case of lymphangiosarcoma, by chronic lymphedema. The chemicals Thorotrast, vinyl chloride, and arsenic are also established carcinogens for hepatic angiosarcomas.[3,4,5]
Soft tissue sarcomas occur with greater frequency in patients with the following inherited syndromes:[3,4,5]
Soft tissue sarcomas may be heterogeneous, so adequate tissue should be obtained via either core-needle or incisional biopsy for microscopic examination to determine histologic type and tumor grade. Careful planning of the initial biopsy is important to avoid compromising subsequent curative resection. Since the selection of treatment is determined by the grade of the tumor, it is essential to have a careful review of the biopsy tissue by a pathologist who is experienced in diagnosing sarcomas. Complete staging and treatment planning by a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists is required to determine the optimal treatment for patients with this disease.
There is evidence that at least some favorable clinical outcomes may be associated with referral to a specialized sarcoma treatment center. In a population-based consecutive series of 375 soft tissue sarcoma patients in Sweden, local recurrence rates of resected tumors were higher in patients who were not referred to the specialized center: in 35 of 78 (45%) patients not referred; in 24 of 102 (24%) patients referred after initial surgery or incisional biopsy; and in 36 of 195 (18%) patients referred prior to any surgical procedure (P = .0001 for the difference between those never referred vs. those referred prior to any surgical procedure).[Level of evidence: 3iDii] However, there were no statistically significant differences in death from sarcoma between the groups of patients.