Soft tissue sarcomas are a type of uncommon cancer that develops within connective or supportive tissues. These include muscles, tendons, fibrous and fatty tissue, blood vessels and nerves. They are most commonly found in the legs, arms and trunk of the body.
It is important to detect soft tissue sarcomas as quickly as possible, to access good quality care and reduce problems the tumour may cause. There are different types of soft tissue sarcomas and some will be more aggressive than others. For this reason, it is important to seek early detection to identify the type and severity of the condition, and to reduce the potential impact of treatment.
Here, we’ll look at why it is important to detect soft tissue sarcomas early and the treatments available.
Why is early detection important?
It is estimated that around 15 people are diagnosed with sarcoma each day within the UK. This means approximately 5,300 people develop them each year. There are over 100 different types of sarcomas, with soft tissue sarcomas being the most common.
Soft tissue sarcomas account for 88% of sarcomas in the UK. There are many different types including:
- Extremity (limb and trunk)
- Gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs)
- Retroperitoneal sarcomas (occur deep in the abdomen and pelvis)
- Gynaecological sarcomas (occur in the female reproductive system)
Whichever type of soft tissue sarcoma you have, early diagnosis is helpful.
Signs and symptoms to watch out for
If you stand any chance of diagnosing sarcomas early, you need to know the signs and symptoms to watch out for. These can vary depending upon the size and location of the tumour.
One of the first symptoms you may notice is a lump or swelling within the soft tissue. The lump may be getting bigger, and it is usually painful although not all patients experience pain.
Ideally, diagnosis should be provided when the lump is under 5cm in size. So, being aware of any lumps that develop and monitoring them for any change is going to help you to ensure you catch it early. The NHS recommends assessment of any lump that is greater than 5cm, deep, rapidly growing, painful or recurrent.
Diagnosis will typically consist of a physical examination, taking scans and a biopsy. Ultrasounds, MRIs and sometimes CT scans may all be used to diagnose a sarcoma.
How are they managed and treated?
Surgery is typically the most common treatment for soft tissue sarcomas, often with radiotherapy to reduce the risk of recurrence. Overall, outcomes are positive.
Several types of surgery can be carried out to treat these types of cancer, depending on the size and location of the tumour. The surgeon will go through your options and discuss which one would be better suited to you. It is important to understand the risks and complications involved with each type of surgery. The aim of surgery is to potentially cure the cancer, and certainly to control it at that site.
Overall, early detection of soft tissue sarcomas is helpful to ensure effective treatment. Watching out for the signs will help you to seek a diagnosis quickly. There are several treatment options available, with surgery being the most effective.
For more advice, call us on 020 3770 5864 to arrange an appointment at the HCA Lister Hospital Clinics (Chelsea Outpatient Centre and Chiswick Medical Centre) or call 020 7808 2785 to book a consultation with Mr Myles Smith at the Royal Marsden Hospital.