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Risk Factors | Screening and Diagnosis | Personalized Treatment | Additional Patient Support

Soft tissue sarcomas are cancerous tumors that can develop from fat, muscle, nerve, joint, blood vessel or deep skin tissues. Affecting mostly adults, sarcomas can develop in any part of the body. About half develop in the arms or legs, and the rest arise in the trunk, head and neck area, internal organs or the back of the abdominal cavity. There are many types of sarcomas and because each subtype is rare, diagnosis is often difficult.

The experienced specialists at NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center combine the most advanced scientific knowledge and technology with a comprehensive and compassionate approach to care. They create a program of personalized medicine and patient-centered care for each individual diagnosed with sarcoma.

Sarcoma Risk Factors

The cause of most sarcomas is unknown. Several hereditary syndromes may place people at higher risk for developing sarcoma. Some sarcomas may form years after a person is treated with therapeutic radiation for other cancers or diseases. Occasionally, a benign tumor can develop into a malignant sarcoma.

The symptoms of sarcomas depend on their site of origin. Bone sarcomas often cause pain at the site of origin. When this pain persists in a young person or any person without known arthritis or other joint diseases, it should be pursued with an X-ray. Soft-tissue sarcomas may arise in various locations, often beginning with a lump that can be felt or is painful. Sarcomas within the abdomen or chest may be harder to diagnose, showing up when patients have pain in those regions of the body, or bleeding from the intestines or bladder.

Sarcoma Screening and Diagnosis

The diagnosis of sarcoma rests upon suspecting it and performing an appropriate biopsy. The biopsy or tissue sample should be done by an experienced surgeon or radiologist familiar with biopsy techniques for these particular diseases. Prior to biopsy, a CT scan or MRI to examine the area of the tumor is often performed. The biopsy sample is examined to determine if cancer is present. Differentiating the various sarcoma diagnoses can be a challenge for a pathologist. At times, samples may need to be sent for a specialty expert opinion. Once a diagnosis is made, a physician will determine the severity or stage of the cancer, including whether it has spread to other areas of the body. Each cancer type has its own classification system.

Personalized Sarcoma Treatment

A variety of treatment options for sarcoma exist, depending on the type and site of origin:

  • Tumors of the arms and legs, which have not spread to other parts of the body, are generally treated with surgery followed by radiation therapy. Sometimes chemotherapy is given in addition to surgery and radiation therapy for soft-tissue tumors.
  • Sarcomas that arise within the abdominal cavity, chest, or the head and neck require surgery and removal of the tumor, and sometimes the removal of surrounding structures. The surgery is sometimes followed by radiation.
  • Sarcomas of the bone are generally treated with surgery. In most cases, chemotherapy is also used and some sarcomas also require radiation in addition to or instead of surgery.

NorthShore offers a full range of surgical options and expertise for patients diagnosed with sarcoma, including minimally invasive techniques for tumors in the head and neck, chest and abdominal cavity, and including isolated limb infusions and isolated limb perfusion for tumors that cannot be removed. When a sarcoma alters normal appearance, your surgeon may work with a plastic surgeon to explore reconstructive options to help restore form and function.

Chemotherapy plays a unique and different role in each of the 50 to 100 subtypes of sarcoma. Expertise is critical, especially for treating individuals with less common forms of sarcoma. Our sarcoma medical oncology subspecialty team has experience with novel targeted therapies that may apply to cancers affecting only a few hundred or less patients per year in the United States. While not generally effective for all sarcomas, immunotherapy can have a profound effect on some patients. NorthShore has had extensive experience with both of these therapies.

Our multidisciplinary team meets regularly in a multidisciplinary conference to discuss your case in detail and to design a personalized treatment plan. Your team may include your medical oncologistsurgeon, radiation oncologist, medical geneticist, pathologist, nutritionist, pharmacist, interventional radiologist, social worker and researchers, all focused on you. This "meeting of the minds" provides critical input, resulting in an individualized care plan outlining the best course of action for your care.

Additional Patient Support

Kellogg Cancer Center’s unique services and resources assist patients and family members with a variety of challenges they may face from diagnosis, treatment and beyond. A wide array of support services are available to patients that include our integrative medicine services, financial advocacy and survivorship, to name a few.

For More Information

For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, please call 847.570.2112.