Sarcoma Q&A

We speak to Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Amit Kumar from BMI The Alexandra Hospital and BMI The Highfield Hospital, to find out the facts about soft tissue cancer (also known as sarcoma).

Mr Kumar also runs a rapid access tumour clinic with consultations and scans in the same sitting.

What is soft tissue cancer?

Soft tissue tumours, also known as sarcomas, are very rare cancers that are usually found on the arms, legs and torso.

However, they can affect any part of the body which contains connective tissue, including the abdomen, pelvis and gynaecological system.

They can also be present in both adults and children. It’s really important to recognise the symptoms to ensure prompt referral.

What are the symptoms of soft tissue cancer?

The features to watch out for are any unexplained lump, which is increasing size, larger than 5cm (the size of a golf ball), which is painful and deep-seated, but this is not always the case.

Sometimes lumps which are small in size can present as an aggressive lesion.

There may be evidence of skin changes, such as discolouration, fungating lesions, and a history of previous surgery or radiotherapy.

What are the causes of soft tissue cancer?

The cause is predominantly unknown, but contributing causes include genetic mutations, family history, previous radiotherapy, or chemical exposure.

Family history is extremely important in patients with a history of neurofibromatosis as this can present as malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumours.

More research is needed to understand the causes of sarcoma, such as with projects like the national 100,000 Genome Project, which I contribute to.

Who is most at risk?

Any patient of any age is at risk. Associated risk factors for differing types of sarcomas include:

  • Genetic syndromes such as retinoblastoma, familial adenomatous polyposis and neurofibromastosis
  • Kaposi’s Sarcoma in HIV infected patients
  • Exposure to certain chemicals such as herbicides
  • Radiation exposure for other cancers can increase the risk of soft tissue sarcomas
What treatments are available for soft tissue cancer?

Treatment is determined following a multi-disciplinary team discussion of the case and staging.

If surgery is decided as the best first approach then a wide local excision is the mainstay of surgical treatment. This is in order to cut out the whole soft tissue tumour along with normal tissue to ensure it is completely excised.

On occasion, more radical surgery might be required, such as amputation. Other treatments include pre and post-operative radiotherapy or chemotherapy which is decided with the oncologists.

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