CHOC Children's

Soft Tissue Sarcoma

What is Soft Tissue sarcoma?

Childhood soft tissue sarcoma is a disease in which cancerous cells begin growing in the soft tissue somewhere in the body. The soft tissues include muscles, tendons (bands of fiber that connect muscles to bones), fibrous tissues, fat, blood vessels, nerves and synovial tissues (tissues around joints). Soft tissues connect, support and surround other body parts and organs.

There are many different kinds of soft tissue sarcoma but they are all relatively uncommon. The American Cancer Society estimated in 2001 that about 8,700 new cases are diagnosed in adults each year, and that less than 10% of those cases are likely to be found in children.

Rhabdomyosarcoma is the type of soft tissue sarcoma that most often occurs in children. It begins in muscles around the bone and can be found anywhere in the body. The other types of soft tissue sarcoma in children are:

  • Fibroscaroma – Begins in fibrous tissue in the arms and legs

  • Neurofibrosarcoma – Begins in nerves near the surface of arms, legs and trunk

  • Leiomyosarcoma – Begins in muscles in the trunk

  • Liposarcoma – Begins in fat in the arms and legs

  • Synovial sarcoma – Begins in linings of joint cavities and tendon sheaths (small pockets of fluid that surround and protect the tendons) in the legs, arms and trunk

  • Hemangiopericytoma – Begins in blood vessels in the arms, legs, trunk, head and neck

  • Alveloar Soft Part Sarcoma – Begins in nerves to the muscles in the arms and legs

  • Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma – Begins in fibrous tissue in the legs

What are the symptoms of Soft Tissue sarcoma?

Often soft tissue sarcomas do not cause symptoms until after they have started to spread. If they do occur, symptoms are likely to include:

  • A new or growing lump anywhere in the body

  • Severe pain in the abdomen

  • Blood in the stool or vomit

How is Soft Tissue sarcoma diagnosed?

The accurate diagnosis of childhood soft tissue sarcoma is crucial in tailoring an optimal treatment plan. The doctor will first ask about symptoms and medical history. The doctor will then perform a thorough physical examination. A diagnosis may be confirmed by a series of tests, which can include:

  • X-Ray – This helps doctors visualize organs and bones inside the body

  • CT Scan – Computed tomography makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles

  • Biopsy – The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer

Once childhood soft tissue sarcoma is found, more tests will be done to find out if the cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body. This is called staging. There are several staging systems for childhood soft tissue sarcoma, but no single staging symptom applies to all types of this cancer.

The following are the 3 general stages of soft tissue sarcoma:

  • Nonmetastatic childhood soft tissue sarcoma – The cancer is found only in the area where it started and has not spread to other parts of the body

  • Metastatic childhood soft tissue sarcoma – The cancer has spread from where it started to other parts of the body

  • Recurrent soft tissue sarcoma – The cancer has come back (recurred) after it has been treated. It may recur in the area where it started or in another part of the body

Treatment for Soft Tissue sarcoma:

Three types of approaches are use to treat childhood soft tissue sarcoma:


Surgery is the standard treatment for childhood soft tissue sarcoma. The surgeon will remove as much of the cancer as possible, along with some of the normal tissue around it.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may be given before surgery or following surgery (if the surgeon is unable to remove adequate tissue surrounding the tumor). Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external radiation therapy) or from putting materials that produce radiation (radioisotopes) through thin plastic tubes into the area where the cancer cells are found (internal radiation therapy).


Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be taken by mouth in the form of a pill, or it may be put into the body by a needle in a vein or muscle. Chemotherapy is called a systemic treatment because the drugs enter the bloodstream, travel through the body, and can kill cancer cells throughout the body.


It is important to remember the health information found on this website is for reference only not intended to replace the advice and guidance of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.

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