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Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Treatment Option Overview


Local control of high-grade soft tissue sarcomas of the trunk and the head and neck can be achieved with surgery in combination with radiation therapy.[4] It may be possible to use surgery without PORT in selected cases. For example, a case series was reported from a specialized sarcoma treatment referral center in which 74 selected patients with primary extremity and trunk tumors 5 cm or less in size were found to have no histologic involvement of the surgical margins.[1] They were observed without radiation therapy, and the estimated local recurrence rate after 10 years was 11%.[1][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] The role of chemotherapy is not as well defined as is the role of radiation therapy. Because of the evolving nature of the treatment options for this disease, patients should be offered the option of clinical trials when available.

Effective treatment of retroperitoneal sarcomas requires removal of all gross disease while sparing adjacent viscera not invaded by tumor. The prognosis for patients with high-grade retroperitoneal sarcomas is less favorable than for patients with tumors at other sites, partly because of the difficulty in completely resecting these tumors and the dose-limiting toxicity of high-dose radiation therapy on visceral organs.[5,6,7,8]

In the setting of distant metastasis, surgery may be associated with long-term disease-free survival in patients with pulmonary metastasis and optimal underlying disease biology (i.e., patients with a limited number of metastases and slow nodule growth) who have undergone or are undergoing complete resection of the primary tumor.[9,10,11] It is not clear to what degree the favorable outcomes are attributable to the efficacy of surgery or the careful selection of patients based on factors that are associated with less-virulent disease.

Role of Radiation Therapy

Radiation plays an important role in limb-sparing therapy. Pre- and postoperative external-beam radiation therapies (EBRT), as well as brachytherapy, have been shown to decrease the risk of local recurrence. They have not been shown to increase OS but are used to avoid amputation for all but the most locally advanced tumors or for limbs seriously compromised by vascular disease, where acceptable functional preservation is not possible. In the case of EBRT, irradiation of the entire limb circumference is avoided to preserve vascular and nerve structures that are critical to function and preservation of the limb.

PORT has been tested in a single-institution randomized trial of 141 patients with extremity sarcomas who were treated with limb-sparing surgery. Patients with high-grade tumors (n = 91) also received adjuvant chemotherapy (i.e., five 28-day cycles of doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide). All patients were randomly assigned to receive radiation (45 Gy to a wide field, plus a tumor-bed boost of 18 Gy over 6–7 weeks), concurrent with chemotherapy in the case of high-grade tumors versus no radiation.[12] At up to 12 years of follow-up, there was one local recurrence in the 70 patients randomly assigned to receive radiation versus 17 recurrences in the 71 control patients (P = .0001), with similar reduction in risk of local recurrence for both high- and low-grade tumors. However, there was no difference in OS between the radiation and control groups.[12][Level of evidence: 1iiDiii] Global quality of life was similar in the two groups, but the radiation therapy group had substantially worse functional deficits resulting from reduced strength and joint motion as well as increased edema.


WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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