Diagnosis & Staging
Soft tissue connects, supports and surrounds the organs and structures in the body.
Soft tissue consists of muscles, joints, fat, blood vessels, tendons, synovial tissues (tissues around joints) and nerves.
Image of where soft tissues can form in the body
Symptoms will be different depending on where the tumour is in the body.
- The first symptom is usually a painless lump growing in the muscle or under the skin.
- If the tumour is pressing against nearby organs, nerves or muscles there may be more symptoms such as weight loss or fever.
- If you have any signs or symptoms that you are worried about, please talk to your family doctor or nurse practitioner.
Tests that may help diagnose soft tissue sarcoma include:
- Physical exam.
- Chest X-ray: to see if cancer has spread to the lungs.
- CT (computed tomography) scan: to show the tumour in more detail and to check for cancer spread to the lungs.
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): to show the tumour in more detail.
- Biopsy: a small amount of tissue from the tumour is removed so that a specialist (pathologist) can examine it under the microscope and see if it is cancer.
- Bone scan: to check if cancer has spread to the bone.
Soft tissue sarcomas are named after the tissue type they most look like.
- Often develop around scars, muscles, nerves, tendons and the lining of the bone.
- Can spread through the bloodstream to the lungs.
- More common in older adults.
- One of the most common types in adults.
- Tumours develop in the fat tissue of the thigh, groin, buttocks (butt), or abdomen (area between your ribs and your pelvis).
- Tumours may be large. This does not always mean that they are fast-growing.
- Different from lipomas (non-cancerous fatty tumours).
- Most common soft tissue sarcoma diagnosed in children. Usually affects children between the ages of two and six.
- Can spread quickly through the bloodstream to other parts of the body.
- One of the most common types in adults.
- Tumours that develop in the smooth muscle.
- Commonly start in the uterus or blood vessels.
- Angiosarcomas: develop in the vascular tissue, such as the arteries and veins.
- Lymphangiosarcomas: develop in the lymphatic system. People with chronic lymphedema may get this type of cancer.
- Can easily spread into the bloodstream.
- Usually develop in tissue next to the joints, especially in the knee, ankle and hand.
- Can develop anywhere in the body, even in the heart.
- Sometimes they may spread to the skin, often the scalp.
- Do not usually spread to the lymph nodes.
- Usually found in the arms and legs.
- Develops in the cells that surround a nerve.
- Can develop in people with neurofibromatosis (a genetic disorder of the nervous system that affects the development of nerve cell tissues).
- Tumour may cause pain or dysfunction (nerves will not work properly).
- One of the most common types of sarcoma with about 50 cases per year in B.C.
- Symptoms may include a lump in the abdomen or very low red blood cells counts (anemia).
- Sometimes discovered when a person has a scan or operation for a different reason.
- Can develop anywhere in the abdomen but most common in the stomach and small intestine (small bowel).
- Cells behave like normal cells and grow slowly.
- If cancer spreads, it usually spreads to the liver first.
Staging describes the cancer. Staging is based on how much cancer is in the body, where it was first diagnosed, if the cancer has spread and where it has spread to.
The stage of the cancer can help your health care team plan your treatment. It can also tell them how your cancer might respond to treatment and the chance that your cancer may come back (recur).
Staging is not the same for each type of soft tissue sarcoma. Some sarcomas are not given a stage.
Staging also depends on the grade of the cancer.
- Low grade: cancers are well differentiated. This means the cells are abnormal but look like normal cells. These cancers usually grow slowly and are less likely to spread.
- High grade: cancers are poorly differentiated. This means the cells do not look like normal cells. These cancers usually grow more quickly and are more likely to spread.
It is best to speak with your doctor about the staging of your soft tissue sarcoma.
For more information about staging, see About Cancer.