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UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

Sarcoma

News & Features

William Olive 

Sarcoma survivor shares his story  

Deputy sheriff William Olive is back on the job after participation in a sarcoma clinical trial.

doctor and patient 

Researcher urges change in sarcoma treatment strategies  

Improved classification of soft-tissue sarcomas leads to more appropriate treatment and better outcomes.

New Patient Support

Peer Navigator Program 

Peer Navigator Program provides one-to-one peer support  

This special program matches newly-diagnosed cancer patients with cancer survivors.

Related Resources

sarcoma cellAdult soft tissue sarcoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the soft tissues of the body.

The soft tissues of the body include the muscles, tendons (bands of fiber that connect muscles to bones), fat, blood vesselslymph vesselsnerves, and tissues around joints. Adult soft tissue sarcomas can form almost anywhere in the body, but are most common in the legs, abdomen, arms, and trunk.

There are many types of soft tissue sarcoma. One type that forms in the wall of the stomachintestines, or rectum is called a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST). The cells of each type of sarcoma look different under a microscope, based on the type of soft tissue in which the cancer began.

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center is a regional referral center for the treatment of bone and soft-tissue sarcomas — cancers that affect bone, muscle, cartilage, blood vessels and other connective tissues in the body.  Our physicians have extensive expertise in the treatment of these uncommon cancers in children and adults alike, and routinely handle the most difficult cases from throughout inland Northern California, Western Nevada and Southern Oregon.

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center provides comprehensive, multidisciplinary care for young and adult patients with sarcoma.  Patients receive all of their care from a team of top academic physicians.  Our team includes specialists in:

Clinical Trials at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center
UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center has a large clinical trials network. The close collaboration among our doctors and our research scientists means that new drugs and treatments developed in the laboratory can quickly move to the clinic, offering our patients immediate access to the latest therapies.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for soft tissue sarcoma include the following inherited disorders:

Other risk factors for soft tissue sarcoma include past treatment with radiation therapy during childhood or for the following types of cancer:


Sources: National Cancer Institute and UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center 

Signs and Symptoms

A sarcoma may appear as a painless lump under the skin, often on an arm or a leg. Sarcomas that begin in the abdomen may not cause symptoms until they become very large. As the sarcoma grows larger and presses on nearby organs, nerves, muscles, or blood vessels, symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Trouble breathing

Sources: National Cancer Institute and UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center 

Diagnosis

If a soft tissue sarcoma is suspected, a biopsy will be done. The type of biopsy that is done will be based on the size and location of the tumor. There are two types of biopsy that may be used:

Samples will be taken from the primary tumorlymph nodes, and other suspicious areas. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells and to find out the grade of the tumor. The grade of a tumor depends on how abnormal the cancer cells look under a microscope and how quickly the cells are dividing. High-grade tumors usually grow and spread more quickly than low-grade tumors. Because soft tissue sarcoma can be hard to diagnose, patients should ask to have biopsy samples checked by a pathologist who has experience in diagnosing soft tissue sarcoma.

Sources: National Cancer Institute and UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center 

Treatment

Surgery
Surgery is the most common treatment for adult soft tissue sarcoma. For some soft-tissue sarcomas, removal of the tumor in surgery may be the only treatment needed. The following surgical procedures may be used:

  • Mohs microsurgery: A procedure in which the tumor is cut from the skin in thin layers. During surgery, the edges of the tumor and each layer of tumor removed are viewed through a microscope to check for cancer cells. Layers continue to be removed until no more cancer cells are seen. This type of surgery removes as little normal tissue as possible and is often used where appearance is important, such as on the skin.
  • Wide local excision: Removal of the tumor along with some normal tissue around it. 
  • Limb-sparing surgery: Removal of the tumor in an arm or leg without amputation, so the use and appearance of the limb is saved. Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be given first to shrink the tumor. The tumor is then removed in a wide local excision. Tissue and bone that are removed may be replaced with a graft using tissue and bone taken from another part of the patient's body, or with an implant such as artificial bone. 
  • Amputation: Surgery to remove part or all of a limb or appendage, such as an arm or leg. 
  • Lymphadenectomy: Removal of the lymph nodes that contain cancer.

Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be given before or after surgery to remove the tumor. When given before surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy will make the tumor smaller and reduce the amount of tissue that needs to be removed during surgery. Treatment given before surgery is called neoadjuvant therapy. When given after surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy will kill any remaining cancer cells. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.

Radiation therapy 
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Fast neutron radiation therapy is a type of high-energy external radiation therapy. A radiation therapy machine aims tiny, invisible particles, called neutrons, at the cancer cells to kill them. Fast neutron radiation therapy uses a higher-energy radiation than the x-ray type of radiation therapy. This allows the same amount of radiation to be given in fewer treatments.

Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the spinal column, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Clinical Trials
UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center has a large clinical trials network, allowing our patients access to the newest drugs and therapies before they become widely available. During all stages of your treatment you should talk to your medical specialist about what clinical trials may be available for you.

High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant 
High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant is a method of giving high doses of chemotherapy and replacing blood -forming cells destroyed by the cancer treatment. Stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the blood or bone marrow of the patient or a donor and are frozen and stored. After the chemotherapy is completed, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body's blood cells.

Targeted therapy 
Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to find and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells. Imatinib (Gleevec) is a type of targeted therapy called a tyrosine kinase inhibitor. It finds and blocks an abnormal protein on cancer cells that causes them to divide and grow. Targeted therapy may be used for gastrointestinal stromal tumors that cannot be removed by surgery or that have spread to other parts of the body.

Sources: National Cancer Institute and UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center 

Your Team

Surgical Oncology

Vijay P. Khatri, M.D.
Professor of Surgical Oncology
Director of Department of Surgery Faculty Development and Mentoring

Robert Canter, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Surgery

Orthopaedic Oncology Surgery

Robert John Steffner, M.D.
Assistant Professor
Chief of Orthopaedic Oncology

Hematology and Oncology

Scott Christensen, M.D.
Professor of Internal Medicine, Hematology and Oncology
Medical Director, Cancer Care Network
Medical Director, Yolo Hospice

Pediatric Hematology and Oncology

Jonathan M. Ducore, M.D., M.P.H.
Professor of Pediatrics
Chief of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology
Medical Director of the Pediatric Infusion Center
Co-Director of the Hemophilia Treatment Center

Noriko Satake, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics

Support

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center is dedicated to caring for the whole patient.  We offer: