Soft Tissue Sarcoma is cancer of the connective soft tissues. Sarcoma means ‘fleshy growth’ in Greek, in medical terminology it means cancer of connective tissue. Soft tissues define a variety of parts of the body, such as muscle, fat, nerves, tendons, synovial tissues and blood vessels. Synovial tissues are the tissues that line joints. Numerous types of malignancies can occur in soft tissues. Soft tissue sarcoma is rare, occurring more in men then women and even rarer in adolescents and children.
Despite the variety of soft tissue sarcoma categories, the symptoms and characteristics are alike.
The treatment for all soft tissue sarcoma is basically the same: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of all three.
Soft tissue sarcoma can occur in any part of the body. More than half of soft tissue sarcomas occur in the hands, arms, feet or legs. A little less than ten percent of soft tissue sarcoma are found in the neck and head. Forty percent of soft tissue sarcoma occurs in the trunk of the body, i.e. the abdomen, chest, shoulders, back or hips.
In its initial stages soft tissue sarcoma presents with no symptoms or warning signs. When the tumor reaches a certain growth, a lump or swelling can be detected. Eventually it may cause discomfort and pain if the tumor is on a nerve or pressing against a muscle. If the tumor is in the abdomen, stomach bleeding or intestinal blocking can occur.
Treatment for soft tissue sarcoma, like all cancers depends on the stage of the cancer and health of the patient. The stage of the cancer is based on the size of the tumor and whether the cancer has metastasized, or spread to other parts of the body. Treatment for soft tissue sarcoma can include a combination of any of these three therapies: surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Surgery to remove the tumor is the most common treatment. The goal of surgery is to be able to remove the tumor and a safe degree of healthy tissue that surrounds the tumor. In ten to fifteen percent of patients, amputation a limb may be needed. In some cases, radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be used prior to surgery to shrink the tumor to avoid amputation. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be used after surgery to ensure all cancer cells are killed.
Radiation therapy involves the use of radioactive implants and/or x-rays. Sometimes, tumors are too large to be removed and radiation therapy is the first choice.
Chemotherapy is intravenous or oral anti-cancer medications. Chemotherapy may be used to shrink tumors and reduce pain and discomfort when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Patients with soft tissue sarcoma usually are treated intravenously with chemotherapy.
Causes and Categories:
Soft tissue sarcomas have a different name for each type of tissue in which they begin to develop. The following details the tissue and names of the varieties of soft tissue sarcomas:
Synovial tissue is the tissue surrounding the joints. Synovial sarcoma is most likely to occur in young adults and children.
Muscles are categorized into two types – skeletal and smooth. Skeletal muscles are responsible for moving bones. Smooth muscles line organs and blood vessels. The intestines and the uterus are smooth muscles. Skeletal muscles that have soft tissue sarcoma come under the group names rhabdomyosarcomas.
The two types of rhabdomyosarcomas are:
embyonal sarcoma – head, neck and genitourinary tract muscles affecting children aged four and younger
alveolar rhabdomyosarcomas arm legs, head and neck of children
Leiomyosarcomas are smooth muscle sarcomas that occur in the uterus, lining of blood vessels and gastrointestinal tract. Leiomyosarcomas appear mostly in adult patients.
Hemangiosarcomas occur in blood vessels of the trunk, arms, legs and head. Infantile hemangiopericytomas are soft tissue sarcomas that occur blood vessels of the neck, arms, legs, trunk and head of patients under four years old. Kaposi’s sarcoma occurs in blood vessel walls and is commonly seen patients with immune deficiency disorders such as AIDS.
When soft tissue sarcoma appears in the peripheral nerves it is referred to as neurofibrosarcoma. The peripheral nerves are in the arms, legs and trunk.
Lymphangiosarcoma is soft tissue sarcoma in the lumph vessels. Lymph vessels can be found through out the body. Lymphangiosarcoma is more present in lymph vessels in the arm. When tissue is exposed to excessive radiation – like the arm that is on the same side of a breast, being treated with radiation therapy for breast cancer –the sarcoma can begin to grow.
In fat tissues, soft tissue sarcoma is referred to as liposarcomas. It can appear in the fatty tissue of legs, trunk and arms.
Fibrous tissue has three classifications of sarcomas: fibrosarcoma, occurring in the trunk, arm or leg; malignanat fibrous histocytomas which occur in arms and legs; and dematofibrosarcomas which grow in tissue directly under the skin, usually present in the trunk, arms or legs.
Tissue that provides a protective lining for organs, such as the heart, intestines and lung is called mesothelial tissue. Soft tissue sarcoma in the mesothelial tissue is referred to as mesotheliomas and most often occur in the lungs.
There are no specific causes for all soft tissue sarcoma. Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure, Kaposi’s sarcoma is caused b a virus. Some cases are hereditary. Exposure to certain chemicals has been known to increase the risk of developing soft tissue sarcoma. Those chemicals believed to increase the risk, yet not scientifically proven are vinyl chloride, herbicides containing phenoxyacetic acid, and dioxin.
Hereditary cases of soft tissue sarcoma are: neurofibromatosis, LiFraumeni syndrome, Garner’s syndrome, and inherited retinoblastoma.
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