Soft tissue sarcoma

Find out about the symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma, how soft tissue sarcoma is diagnosed and how it’s treated.

  • Soft tissue sarcomas are cancerous tumours that form in places like fat, muscle and blood vessels
  • They might not show any symptoms at first, but with time you may notice a lump which gets more painful as it grows
  • Soft tissue sarcomas can be diagnosed using a range of scans, X rays and biopsies
  • Surgery is the most common treatment, and chemotherapy and radiotherapy are sometimes used in combination with this.

What is soft tissue sarcoma?

Sarcoma is the medical name for a cancerous tumour.

Soft tissue is the medical name for the parts of your body – other than bone – that connect, support or surround other parts. It includes fat, muscle, blood vessels, nerves, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, deep skin tissues and the tissue around your joints.

So a soft tissue sarcoma is a cancerous tumour found in the soft tissue of your body. There is a lot of soft tissue in your body, so where tumours grow is different from person to person.

What are the symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma?

At first, soft tissue sarcomas don’t usually cause any symptoms.

But as they grow you’ll often feel a lump, which might be painless at first but starts to hurt as it pushes against nearby nerves and muscles.

If you’ve noticed a lump, it’s important to get it checked out by a doctor straightaway. Most lumps in young people won’t be cancer, but it’s always best to check.

How is soft tissue sarcoma diagnosed?

Doctors use a range of tests to diagnose soft tissue sarcomas.

MRI scans, CT scans, PET scans and X-rays are all used to find and look at lumps in more detail. You won’t feel anything while you’re having these scans and they don’t cause any pain.

Biopsies are used to take cells from lumps so they can be studied under a microscope for signs of cancer.

You can find out more about all of these techniques in our Getting diagnosed section.

How do you treat soft tissue sarcoma?

Surgery is the most common treatment for soft tissue sarcoma.

A surgeon removes the tumour and some healthy tissue around it to make sure all of the cancer cells are taken away.

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are also sometimes used to kill cancer cells. And you might have a combination of radiotherapy or chemotherapy before or after surgery.

Find out more about cancer treatments.

The information on this page is more than three years old.