Scripps offers patients more ways to fight soft tissue cancer than any other San Diego health care provider.
Most tumors of this rare cancer develop in the arms or legs, but they can also appear in the torso, head and neck areas. There are nearly 50 subtypes of soft tissue sarcoma.
The cancer is diagnosed in more than 12,000 people each year in the U.S. It is named so because it develops in soft tissues such as muscle, nerves, fat and blood vessels, as well as fibrous tissues like tendons and ligaments.
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While no annual screening test exists for soft tissue sarcoma, people with a strong family history of the disease may want to consider genetic testing to identify possible risks early. Scripps has genetics counselors available to review test results and advise patients and their physicians. Genetic counseling is not a substitute for office exams and other tests and procedures to identify or confirm the presence of cancer.
The following tests and procedures may be used to detect and diagnose soft tissue cancer:
- Physical exam that includes a check for any signs of disease, including lumps or other abnormalities.
- X-ray of the possible area of cancer to look for tumors or to see if there is any spread beyond the cancer’s origin.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan, which is a painless, non-invasive way to see inside the body using X-ray imaging. Multiple images taken from different angles create cross-sectional images of soft tissue, organs, blood vessels and bone. The digital images can be combined to create 3-D pictures.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan to capture detailed images of the inside of the body.
- PET (positron emission tomography) scan that is combined with a CT scan to track the possible presence of cancer cells. During the exam a mildly radioactive substance is injected with a solution of glucose. Cancer cells absorb glucose more quickly than healthy cells and will display on the PET scan.
- Ultrasound imaging, through which sound waves are used to create a picture of organs, veins and arteries.
- Needle biopsy or incisional biopsy where tissue samples are gathered through a needle or surgically through an incision of the skin and checked for cancer cells
The focus of surgery for soft tissue sarcoma is to remove the cancer and preserve healthy tissue and bone. Any surgical recommendation depends on factors such as the stage of the cancer, a patient’s health and age, and other considerations. Surgical options may include:
- Mohs microsurgery
- Wide local excision is the removal of the tumor and area of healthy tissue adjacent to the tumor.
- Limb-sparing surgery in which the cancer is removed, while saving a limb.
- Amputation of the leg or arm for a tumor that is large and has spread into nerves or blood vessels. A prosthetic is fitted and physical rehabilitation is part of the post-surgery treatment plan.
A combination of chemotherapy drugs and doses may be used for soft tissue sarcoma. The FDA has approved several, which offers physicians choices, based on how a patient responds to treatment. Scripps provides patients convenient access to infusion centers and physician office infusion facilities across San Diego.
External-beam radiation therapy such as intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and 3-D conformal radiation may be part of a treatment plan designed to attack any remaining soft tissue sarcoma cancer cells post-surgery, or in combination with chemotherapy if the cancer is not a good candidate for surgery. It can also be part of a treatment to shrink a tumor prior to surgery.
Drugs that have been shown to shrink tumors or halt their growth can be used in targeted therapy for soft tissue sarcomas.
Complementary therapies to address soft tissue sarcoma symptoms and treatment side effects are also available at Scripps, as well as comprehensive physical rehabilitation services.