Soft Tissue Tumors - Malignant

Malignant soft tissue tumors are known as sarcomas. These tumors form in connective tissues, such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, fat and cartilage.

They are different than the more common cancers (carcinomas), which are malignant tumors that form in organs or glands (e.g., breast, prostate, colon, liver, kidney, lung, thyroid gland, etc). Malignant soft tissue tumors are still serious. They must be treated with great caution.

Malignant soft tissue tumors are rare, making up only about 1% of all malignant tumors. Only about 6,000 of these tumors occur each year in the United States.

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Symptoms

These types of tumors include:

  • Angiosarcoma
  • Ewing's sarcoma
  • Fibrosarcoma
  • Hemangiopericytoma
  • Liposarcoma
  • Malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH)
  • Neurosarcoma
  • Rhabdosarcoma
  • Synovial sarcoma

Causes and Risk Factors

Malignant soft tissue tumors can occur at almost any age, but are most common in individuals between the ages of 50 and 70.

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Diagnosis

In diagnosing malignant soft tissue tumors, it is important to know whether or how far the tumor has spread in the body. In more than 90% of patients with a malignant tumor, there are no visible signs the tumor has spread. This does not necessarily mean that the tumor hasn't spread; it may mean that the scattered cells can't be picked up by current medical tests and imaging.

If the tumor has spread, removing the visible part of the tumor will not cure the patient.

An experienced pathologist can examine a sample of the tumor under a microscope. He or she can then group it according to how likely it is to have spread. A tumor that is classed as high grade has a 70 to 90% chance of having spread. A low-grade tumor has less than a 15% chance of spreading.

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Treatments

There have been important advanced made in the treatment of malignant soft tissue tumors over the past 15 years.

Combining chemotherapy and radiation therapy with surgery has helped prevent tumors from coming back and helped to increase survival rates.

Specialized radiation techniques, improved surgical methods for removing tumors and rebuilding affected parts of the body have meant that 90 to 95% of the people with these aggressive tumors can be treated without amputating limbs.

For low grade tumors, surgery may be the only treatment needed.

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