Soft Tissue Cancer (Sarcoma): What is it, Symptoms, Types and Treatment
Soft tissue cancer, known in medicine as sarcoma, is a malignant tumor that occurs in connective tissues and is a rare type of cancer. Soft tissues are tissues located in and around organs in the body that support, connect or surround these organs. Examples of soft tissues include muscle, vessel, nerve, tendon and joint inner surface. Sarcoma is also seen in childhood, young adults and older people. This type of cancer can manifest itself as a lump or palpable mass in the soft tissues. Sarcomas can be seen all over the body, but they are most commonly located in the arms, legs and abdomen. The masses formed may occur in both cases, with or without pain. The definitive diagnosis of soft tissue cancer can be made by biopsy and a treatment plan can be created. Depending on the course of the disease, treatment methods such as surgical interventions, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or smart drugs are applied.
What is Soft Tissue Cancer?
Soft tissue cancer (sarcoma) is a type of cancer that affects connective tissues. Connective tissues form a wide range of tissues that hold muscles, subcutaneous deep tissues, fatty tissues, vessels and nerve cells. These tissues include the leg, arm, abdomen, neck and pelvis areas. It is a type of cancer that is difficult to detect unless the swelling, lump and masses reach a size that is visible from the outside. In other words, the tumors that constitute soft tissue cancer may not cause any symptoms when they are small. Soft tissue cancer can only become noticeable as the tumor grows and is accompanied by pain. In later stages of sarcoma, tumor cells may grow and put pressure on surrounding tissues, causing severe pain and gait disturbance.
Symptoms of Soft Tissue Cancer
Since connective tissues are in every part of the body, there are many places where sarcoma occurs. The biggest symptom of sarcoma is the formation of a painless lump. These growths can sometimes reach large enough sizes to put pressure on muscles and nerves. Less commonly, symptoms may include chest pain and difficulty breathing, stomach pain, black-bloody stools, and vomiting blood. Swellings and lumps in our body may not always be sarcoma. Most of the swellings we notice on our bodies are benign tissue clusters. Malignant soft tissue tumors are generally larger than 5 centimeters and tend to settle in deeper tissues.
Some of the most common symptoms of soft tissue cancer are as follows:
- Swelling or hardness in the area where the tumor is located
- Pain in the surrounding tissues where the mass is located
- Gait disorders or movement limitation depending on the size of the mass
- Bone tenderness and bone fractures
- Difficulty breathing or respiratory failure
- Stomach ache
- Obstruction-narrowing in the intestines
- weight loss
- Fatigue, weakness.
Types of Soft Tissue Cancer
Soft tissue cancers have a wide variety of subgroups. Tumor tissue may show different types and biological properties depending on the cell type from which it is formed. The location of soft tissue cancer varies depending on the cell type in the body from which it originates. Some of the main types of these tumors are:
- Liposarcoma: It is usually seen in people between the ages of 40-70. Liposarcoma is one of the most common subtypes of soft tissue cancer and is mostly found in the body’s fatty tissue cells.
- Synovial Sarcoma: This type of cancer arises from cells in the joints and tendons near the knee area.
- Leiomyosarcoma: These are groups of smooth muscle-derived tumors seen in cells in the digestive, excretory and reproductive organs.
- Rhabdomyosarcoma: It occurs as a result of tumor of the skeletal muscles responsible for the movements of the body. Rhabdomyosarcoma is more common in children.
- Fibrosarcomas: Consist of cells that form connective tissue.
- Gastrointestinal stromal tumor: It consists of connective tissue cells in the intestine.
- Angiosarcoma: It is a type of cancer that affects blood vessels.
- Kaposi Sarcomas: This type of cancer can often occur in more than one area of the skin. These tumors may be caused by a virus called herpes virus 8 or HHV-8. These sarcomas most commonly affect the nose, mouth, and anus areas.
- Sarcomas arising from the sheath of nerves: They are a type of cancer that covers nerve cells. It is usually found in nerve formations such as face, hearing and balance.
- Radiation-Induced Sarcomas: This is a type of cancer that can be seen after radiation treatments for various diseases. They are usually located in areas where radiotherapy was performed and may appear after many years.
How Is Soft Tissue Cancer Diagnosed?
Soft tissue cancer is a type of cancer that progresses more insidiously and causes symptoms later than other types of cancer. It usually occurs in the advanced stages of cancer when tumors become noticeable and pain increases. Since sarcoma mostly affects areas such as the arms and legs, patients are usually seen first by an orthopedic and traumatologist. Apart from this, sarcomas in the head and neck region are examined and followed up by ear, nose and throat specialists, those in the chest region by pulmonologists, or those in the abdominal region by general surgeons. If doctors suspect the presence of cancer during their examinations, they first ask for a good family history to understand whether there is a genetic predisposition. Following a detailed physical examination, examinations are performed with advanced imaging devices such as MRI (magnetic resonance), CT (computed tomography), PET-CT or ultrasound to visualize the lumps and lesions that occur. In this way, the spread and stage of the cancer are determined. With these methods, it is also possible to understand how much the tumor has grown, which organs it affects, or whether it has spread to surrounding tissues. For definitive diagnosis, a biopsy is performed and a piece of the area is taken. Biopsy is an extremely important procedure in determining sarcoma treatment. According to the biopsy results, if the patient is diagnosed with soft tissue cancer, the necessary treatment is determined.
How Is Soft Tissue Cancer Treated?
In soft tissue cancer, the earlier the disease is diagnosed, the higher the chance of success in treatment. The treatment plan varies depending on the size, type and location of the tumor. Treatment to be determined; It can be applied with a multidisciplinary approach in a committee that includes an orthopedist, radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, cardiovascular surgeon and plastic surgeon. In addition, the patient’s receiving professional psychological help is also included in the scope of treatment. The main treatment methods for soft tissue cancer are as follows:
The primary treatment method for soft tissue cancer is surgery. Surgical procedures include removing the tumor with some surrounding tissue in a way that leaves no bad tissue behind. However, success can be achieved with this method in cases where the tumor does not grow too much or does not spread to other tissues. However, in cases where sarcoma surrounds the arms and legs and involves vessels and nerves, it may not be possible to preserve the limb and amputation surgery may be required.
Radiation therapy involves administering high-power rays to the patient after tumor cells are removed to stop or prevent their spread to other organs. Radiation therapy is also used in some cases to reduce the size of the tumor before surgical treatment. This makes it easier to remove the tumor surgically.
Chemotherapy is one of the most effective forms of treatment used to kill cancer cells. It is applied regularly and at certain intervals. Chemotherapy drugs are given to patients intravenously (through a vein). Strong chemical drugs given in chemotherapy are aimed at destroying fast-growing cancer cells in the body. Since chemotherapy contains very strong chemicals, it may have some side effects during the treatment process. Before chemotherapy, you should get information from your doctor about what these side effects are and what precautions should be taken.
Smart Drug Therapy
Smart drug therapy recognizes the molecules produced by cancer cells and destroys them. In some soft tissue sarcomas, this treatment can be applied in addition to radiological treatments or on its own. These types of drugs are powerful treatments aimed directly at the target.