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Soft Tissue Sarcoma

What is soft tissue sarcoma?

Soft tissue sarcoma is a type of cancer that grows in the body’s soft connective tissue including:

  • Muscle
  • Nerves
  • Tendons
  • Fat
  • Walls of blood and lymph vessels

Soft tissue sarcomas account for about 7% of all childhood cancers. They can be divided into 2 main types:

  • Rhabdomyosarcoma
  • Non-rhabdomyosarcoma soft tissue sarcoma (NRSTS)

Soft tissue sarcomas are named for the tissue that they most resemble:

  • Skeletal muscle: rhabdomyosarcoma
  • Smooth muscle: leiomyosarcoma
  • Cartilage: chondrosarcoma
  • Fat: liposarcoma
  • Blood and lymph vessels: angiosarcoma
  • Peripheral nerves: malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor
  • Fibrous tissue: fibrosarcoma

Rhabdomyosarcoma is more common in younger children. NRSTS is more common in teens. These types of cancers can range from local to highly metastatic (spreading through the body).

Certain conditions passed through families can increase risk for soft tissue sarcomas. Children who have been exposed to radiation are also at higher risk. Treatment for soft tissue sarcoma usually includes surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.

Sitara Khan is a childhood cancer survivor

Childhood cancer survivor story

"Life as a survivor has its challenges. Some late effects of the disease or treatments might remain with us. We might have a little pain in the back, pain in the hands, or it might affect our appearance. But those never make me feel discouraged—never make me feel down. I know I am strong, and this journey even makes me stronger." —Sitara Khan

Sitara was diagnosed with an advanced stage of rhabdomyosarcoma when she was 12 years old. She overcame many challenges during her treatment. Today, she helps other children and families face cancer in India. 

Read her story


Life after soft tissue sarcoma

Monitoring for recurrence

Soft tissue sarcomas can return years later. The tumor can come back in the same place or in another part of the body.

Your child will need follow-up care to screen for recurrence after treatment ends. The medical team will tell you which tests are needed and how often your child should have checkups.

Health after cancer

Children treated for soft tissue sarcoma are at risk for late effects related to therapy. Specific problems depend on the location of the tumor and the type of therapy your child received.
Long-term effects of surgery can include loss of function and changes in appearance.

Survivors who were treated with radiation therapy may have growth problems, bone disease, and other issues due to treatment. They may also have a higher risk of second cancers.

Survivors who were treated with systemic chemotherapy should be monitored for:

  • Heart problems
  • Kidney damage
  • Infertility
  • Endocrine problems
  • Second cancers

All survivors should continue to have regular physical checkups and screenings by a primary physician. A healthy lifestyle and eating habits can also help.

Questions to ask your child’s care team

  • What are our treatment options?
  • What are the possible side effects of each treatment?
  • What can be done to manage side effects?
  • Will my child need to be in the hospital for treatment?
  • Where is the treatment available? Is it close to home or will we have to travel?

Key points about soft tissue sarcoma

  • Soft tissue sarcoma is a type of cancer that grows in the body’s soft connective tissue.
  • There are 2 main types: Rhabdomyosarcoma and non-rhabdomyosarcoma soft tissue sarcoma (NRSTS).
  • Certain inherited conditions can increase risk for soft tissue sarcomas.
  • Treatment for soft tissue sarcoma usually includes surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.

Reviewed: December 2022