Soft tissue cancers

Soft tissue cancer, also called soft tissue sarcoma, is a rare form of cancer

Cancer Education
4 min read

Soft tissue cancers can start and grow in any soft tissue area of the body. It can grow in soft tissue such as fat, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. It can also start and grow in the tissue that connects and surrounds joints. 

There are about 50 types of soft tissue cancers and each one is different from the others. The symptoms, diagnosis and treatment for soft tissue cancer will vary according to: 

  • Disease type 

  • Where in the body it is 

  • When it started

Usually there are no symptoms at the early stages of soft tissue cancer. The first sign you notice may be a small, painless lump. Over time, as this lump grows, it may become painful or sore. This will depend on where in the body the cancer is. 

Most people who show signs of a small and/or painful lump do not have soft tissue cancer. 

Only a doctor can tell if you have soft tissue cancer. If you have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, you should see your GP. 

Your first tests for diagnosis 

We place you at the centre of our work. Your specialist will find out where your cancer started (what type of cell). They will also find out what type of soft tissue cancer it is.  

Our experts will work with you to find out your condition. They will support you through a medical examination and other key tests such as: 

  • Pathology (blood tests) 

  • Imaging (scans and x-rays) 

  • Biopsy

Diagnosis of soft tissue cancers

We have the largest bone and soft tissue sarcoma service in Australia. We provide you with the best testing and treatment for bone cancer.  

We will design and work on a diagnosis and treatment plan. This plan will best respond to your condition and individual needs. 

Sarcomas are very complex and can grow in many places of the body. To provide you with the best treatment plan we need to make sure we diagnose the right type of soft tissue sarcoma. 

To do this we will first conduct various imaging tests to show the size and place of the cancer. Imaging tests include: 

  • X-rays - pictures taken to show body parts 

  • Computerised Tomography (CT) scans. These are three-dimensional x-ray pictures that give more information than a normal x-ray 

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans. These use magnet machinery to take pictures of inside body parts 

  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans. These use a radioactive drug to show a picture of how your tissues and organs are working

Following the scans, we will perform a biopsy. A biopsy is vital to diagnose the right condition. A biopsy can be: 

  • A simple guided needle biopsy to remove some cells from the affected area 

  • A larger biopsy where we remove a small piece of tissue for laboratory testing. Testing the sample will show if cancer cells are present. It also helps us pinpoint the exact type of sarcoma disease 

Focusing on you (treatment) 

We will discuss and develop the best treatment plan for you. Treatments will depend on your diagnosis. 

Soft tissue cancer treatment will depend on: 

  • The type of disease it is 

  • Whether it has spread and how far (its stage) 

  • Your general health and wellbeing 

  • Your needs 

For most types of soft tissue cancer, surgery is the main treatment. We use surgery to remove the cancer, surrounding tissue and/or other infected areas. These areas could include lymph nodes. 

More treatments for surgery may involve: 

  • For most types of soft tissue cancer, surgery is the main treatment. We use surgery to remove the cancer, surrounding tissue and/or other infected areas. These areas could include lymph nodes 

  • Radiation therapy. These are strong and powerful beams of radiation/energy to kill and/or slow cancer cells. We can use these either before or after surgery or both

  • Clinical trials 

  • A combination of these

Enhancing your care (after treatment) 

After effective treatment, you will continue to see your specialist every three months. We use these visits to check your health. They may include tests such as pathology, imaging (scans and x-rays) and biopsies. Your specialist will discuss the best follow-up plan for you. 

Living with soft tissue cancers

We know how hard cancer and treatment can be. It can disrupt and change your lifestyle and that of your loved ones. During this time, it is common to struggle with ongoing concerns about cancer and therapy. There are many expert groups available to support you through this time, including: 

Soft tissue cancers support 

We focus on all aspects of your health and wellbeing. Our sarcoma experts will help support and guide you to the best information and managed care. 

Our specialist nurses can refer you to our: 

Patient and carer resources 

More information about soft tissue cancers is available. This covers their treatment and support for patients and families. Download copies of the following resources:  

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