Soft Tissue Sarcoma

What is soft tissue sarcoma?

Soft tissue sarcoma is a type of cancer that grows in soft tissues that support and connect parts of the body, including:

  • Muscles
  • Nerves
  • Fat
  • Tendons
  • Blood vessels

In children, soft tissue tumors most often develop in the arms, legs, chest, and abdomen. If left untreated, soft tissue cancer can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

What causes soft tissue sarcoma?

Medical experts do not know exactly what causes soft tissue sarcomas. Some factors that may increase your child’s risk include:

  • Inherited genetic disorders such as neurofibromatosis and Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • Prenatal genetic changes caused by certain chromosome abnormalities
  • Previous radiation therapy treatment
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, such as vinyl chloride
  • AIDS and Epstein-Barr viral (EBV) infections 

Types of soft tissue sarcoma

There are many different types of soft tissue sarcomas. Some examples of soft tissue sarcomas and the type of tissue where they started growing include:

  • Rhabdomyosarcoma, in skeletal muscles (the most common sarcoma in children)
  • Fibrosarcoma, in fibrous tissues such as tendons and ligaments
  • Leiomyosarcoma, in smooth muscle such as the stomach and bladder
  • Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor, in the protective covering of nerves
  • Liposarcoma, in fat cells (rare)

Symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma

Soft tissue tumors may show no symptoms in early stages. The most common sign is a painless lump or swelling under the skin. As sarcomas grow larger, they may press on nearby muscles, nerves, organs, and blood vessels and cause:

  • Pain, tingling, or numbness
  • Weakness
  • Trouble breathing

Because these symptoms also appear in other childhood conditions, they may or may not be a sign of soft tissue sarcoma. Your pediatrician will need to thoroughly examine your child to determine the cause of these symptoms.

How is soft tissue sarcoma diagnosed?

Children’s National has advanced imaging equipment available for diagnosis, staging, treatment, and follow-up for all bone and soft tissue sarcomas in children, adolescents, and young adults. In addition, the Children’s National sarcoma program is one of the few in the United States where patients can see a pediatric oncologist, orthopaedic oncologist, biologist, and physical therapist in one truly comprehensive visit. 

In addition to a physical exam, your pediatrician may recommend one or more of the following tests to look for soft tissue sarcoma:

  • Blood and urine tests to measure organ function and evaluate their possible involvement
  • Diagnostic imaging, including CT, MRI, ultrasound, X-ray, and bone scans, to look for tumors
  • Biopsy, a tissue sample of the tumor that a lab pathologist can study to determine whether the growth is cancerous

Treatments for soft tissue sarcoma

There are several treatment options for children with soft tissue sarcomas, including:

  • Cancer surgery to remove the entire tumor and nearby tissue, if needed
  • Radiation therapy, including:
    • External beam using a machine to focus high-powered X-rays on the tumor
    • Brachytherapy (internal radiation) using tiny implants to deliver radiation directly into or very near the tumor
  • Chemotherapy with drugs that are delivered by mouth or vein
  • Targeted therapy with drugs that focus on cancer cells without damaging normal cells 

Children who have soft tissue sarcomas often respond better to treatment than adults and have a better prognosis.

Learn more about our comprehensive Solid Tumor Program at Children’s National. 


Diagnosis

Diagnosis

In addition to a physical exam, your pediatrician may recommend one or more of the following tests to look for soft tissue sarcoma:

  • Blood and urine tests to measure organ function and evaluate their possible involvement
  • Diagnostic imaging, including CT, MRI, ultrasound, X-ray, and bone scans, to look for tumors
  • Biopsy, a tissue sample of the tumor that a lab pathologist can study to determine whether the growth is cancerous
Treatments

Treatments

There are several treatment options for children with soft tissue sarcomas, including:

Treatment Services

Pediatric Sarcoma Treatment

Children’s National has advanced imaging equipment available for diagnosis, staging, treatment, and follow-up for all bone and soft tissue sarcomas in children, adolescents, and young adults. Children’s National sarcoma program is one of the few in the United States where patients can see a pediatric oncologist, orthopaedic oncologist, biologist, and physical therapist in one truly comprehensive visit.

Pediatric Cancer Surgery

Our expert surgical oncology team provides the full spectrum of surgical treatment for children with cancer.

Pediatric Radiation

Radiation therapy (also called radiation oncology) uses special kinds of energy waves or particles to fight cancer.

Pediatric Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to treat cancer cells.

Treatment Service Locations

main hospital

Main Hospital

111 Michigan Avenue, NW
Washington, District of Columbia 20010

Show more Locations
Departments

Departments

Solid Tumor Program

Our solid tumor experts provide advanced diagnosis and personalized treatment plans for children with solid tumors.

Oncology

Our oncology (cancer) team provides personalized treatment plans for children with cancer, including access to clinical trials.

Invest in future cures for some of life's most devastating diseases

See other ways to give

Keep in touch with Children's National by signing up for our newsletters.

Sign up now

Elias's Story Part Two

Patient story

"One positive thing I have to say about this process is that the rotation of Children's attending physicians for the oncology inpatient unit is outstanding, and the fellows also are very good. They were accessible (by phone, too, when we were at home), understanding, and of course knowledgeable."

Read More of Elias's Story Part Two