The following describes the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of soft-tissue cancer. For specific information regarding your health and treatment options, please contact your Hurley physician or medical professional.
What are soft-tissue cancers?
The “soft tissues” in the body include fat, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels, as well as fibrous tissues that surround joints and deep skin tissues. There are many types of soft tissue tumors and not all of them are cancerous. However, soft tissue cancers, or sarcomas, are malignant tumors that can develop in any part of the body (although the sarcomas in the limbs are more common, given the presence of extensive connective tissue in these areas of the body).
What causes soft-tissue cancers?
The exact causes of soft-tissue sarcomas, as with most cancers, are unknown. Sarcomas are relatively rare in adults (accounting for approximately 1% of all cancers), but are more common in children (about 15% of cancers found in children). While most individuals with sarcomas do not have a history of such cancers in their families, there is some evidence that in certain families there is an increased likelihood of being diagnosed with a soft-tissue cancer. This suggests that, in some cases, there may be a hereditary factor in the development of the disease. Other studies suggest that workers exposed to certain known carcinogens, such as vinyl chloride, have an increased rate of soft-tissue sarcomas. Finally, there is evidence that overexposure to radiation can cause sarcomas, especially in children. Therefore, great care is taken when exposing children to radiation, especially when used to treat existing soft-tissue cancers or other disorders.
What are the symptoms of soft-tissue cancers?
Since the symptoms of soft-tissue cancer vary across individuals and may appear similar to symptoms of other illnesses and disorders, you should always speak to your Hurley physician about any symptoms you are experiencing.
Because they develop in relatively flexible tissues and structures, soft-tissue cancers often grow for a period of time with no symptoms. Typically, a lump or swelling is the first indication that something is wrong. However, as a soft-tissue tumor grows, it can cause pain or soreness, particularly as it presses against nerves and blood vessels.
How are soft-tissue cancers diagnosed?
If you notice a new lump or mass, or detect changes in a lump or mass about which you’ve already seen a physician, you should contact a medical professional immediately. During your appointment, your Hurley physician will ask you questions about your medical history and conduct a complete physical examination. Laboratory tests may be ordered, including blood, urine and other tests. Your physician may conduct a lymph node or soft-tissue biopsy, in which small samples of tissue are removed and analyzed by a trained pathologist for the presence of abnormal cells. Imaging technology may also be used to detect cancer of the soft tissues and to determine the location and spread of such cancers. These imaging tests include x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans and bone scans (to detect whether the cancer has spread to the bones).
How are soft-tissue cancers treated?
Part of the diagnostic testing process involves grading and “staging” the soft-tissue sarcoma. In this step, your oncologist will determine the type of cancerous cells or tumors present, the rate of tumor growth, and the degree to which the cancer has spread to other organs and systems of the body. Your oncologist will then recommend a course of treatment that takes this information into account, as well as your age, overall health, and personal and family circumstances, and your unique needs and objectives for treatment.
Treatment options include surgery to remove the cancerous cells, tumors and affected areas of tissue. For smaller tumors and less aggressive cancers, minimally invasive procedures such as cryosurgery (in which the cancer cells are killed by freezing) or laparoscopic surgery (using a thin, lighted tube with a viewing device to guide the surgeon) may be effective. In other cases, particularly for hard-to-reach or more aggressive forms of sarcoma, more extensive surgery may be required.
Chemotherapy or external and internal radiation therapy may also be used, alone or in combination with each other, or in addition to surgical techniques. There are also a number of new drugs and innovative therapies that have been developed recently to target and treat soft-tissue cancer, which may be used at the site of the cancer or throughout the body. These include medications that kill cancer cells or prevent cancer cells from replicating (dividing).
Research on soft-tissue cancer is ongoing; you may wish to speak with your Hurley physician about clinical trials that are testing new, emerging treatment options.