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Childhood soft tissue sarcoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in soft tissues of the body.
Soft tissues of the body connect, support, and surround other body parts and organs. The soft tissues include the following:
Soft tissue sarcoma may be found anywhere in the body. In children, the tumors form most often in the arms, legs, or trunk (chest and abdomen).
There are many different types of soft tissue sarcomas.
The cells of each type of sarcoma look different under a microscope. The soft tissue tumors are grouped based on the type of soft tissue cell where they first formed.
See the following PDQ summaries for more information:
This summary is about the following types of soft tissue sarcoma:
Fibrous (connective) tissue tumors
Fat tissue tumors
Smooth muscle tumors
Peripheral nervous system tumors
Bone and cartilage tumors
Tumors with more than one type of tissue
Tumors of unknown origin (the place where the tumor first formed is not known)
Blood and lymph vessel tumors
Besides rhabdomyosarcomas, the most common soft tissue sarcomas in children are in joint tissue, connective tissue, and nerve tissue.
Soft tissue sarcoma occurs in children and adults. Soft tissue sarcoma in children may respond differently to treatment, and may have a better outcome than soft tissue sarcoma in adults. (See the PDQ summary on Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treatment for more information on treatment in adults.)
Having certain diseases and inherited disorders can increase the risk of childhood soft tissue sarcoma.
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. People who think they may be at risk should discuss this with their doctor. Risk factors for childhood soft tissue sarcoma include having the following inherited disorders:
Other risk factors include the following:
The most common sign of childhood soft tissue sarcoma is a painless lump or swelling in soft tissues of the body.
A sarcoma may appear as a painless lump under the skin, often on an arm, a leg, or the trunk. There may be no other symptoms at first. As the sarcoma grows larger and presses on nearby organs, nerves, muscles, or blood vessels, symptoms may occur, including pain or weakness.
Other conditions may cause the same symptoms that soft tissue sarcomas do. A doctor should be consulted if any of these problems occur.
Diagnostic tests and a biopsy are used to detect (find) and diagnose childhood soft tissue sarcoma.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
If these tests show there may be a soft tissue sarcoma, a biopsy is done. One of the following types of biopsies may be used:
In order to plan the best treatment, a large sample of tissue may be removed during the biopsy to find out the type of soft tissue sarcoma and do laboratory tests. Tissue samples will be taken from the primary tumor, lymph nodes, and other areas that may have a tumor. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells and to find out the type and 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 and mid-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 the tissue sample checked by a pathologist who has experience in diagnosing soft tissue sarcoma.
One or more of the following laboratory tests may be done to study the tissue samples:
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:
The prognosis also depends on how the tumor responds to chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
After childhood soft tissue sarcoma has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body.
The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the soft tissue or to other parts of the body is called staging. There is no standard staging system for childhood soft tissue sarcoma. Two methods that are commonly used for staging are based on the amount of tumor remaining after surgery to remove the tumor and/or the grade and size of the tumor and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment.
The following tests and procedures may be used in the staging process:
The results of the sentinel lymph node biopsy and CT scan are viewed together with the results of the diagnostic tests and initial surgery to determine the stage of the soft tissue sarcoma.
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
The three ways that cancer spreads in the body are:
When cancer cells break away from the primary (original) tumor and travel through the lymph or blood to other places in the body, another (secondary) tumor may form. This process is called metastasis. The secondary (metastatic) tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually breast cancer cells. The disease is metastatic breast cancer, not bone cancer.
One method used to stage childhood soft tissue sarcoma is based on how much cancer remains after surgery to remove the tumor and whether the cancer has spread:
Nonmetastatic childhood soft tissue sarcoma
In nonmetastatic childhood soft tissue sarcoma, the cancer has been partly or completely removed by surgery and has not spread to other parts of the body.
Metastatic childhood soft tissue sarcoma
Another method used to stage childhood soft tissue sarcoma is based on the size of the tumor and whether cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
This staging system is based on the following:
Pea, peanut, walnut, and lime show tumor sizes.
Stage I is divided into stages IA and IB:
Stage II is divided into stage IIA and stage IIB:
In stage III, the tumor is either:
In stage IV, the tumor is any grade, any size, and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes. Cancer has spread to distant parts of the body such as the lungs.
Recurrent childhood soft tissue sarcoma is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the same place or in other parts of the body. Progressive childhood soft tissue sarcoma is cancer that did not respond to treatment.
There are different types of treatment for patients with childhood soft tissue sarcoma.
Different types of treatments are available for patients with childhood soft tissue sarcoma. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment.
Because cancer in children is rare, taking part in a clinical trial should be considered. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Children with childhood soft tissue sarcoma should have their treatment planned by a team of health care providers who are experts in treating cancer in children.
Treatment will be overseen by a pediatric oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating children with cancer. The pediatric oncologist works with other health care providers who are experts in treating children with soft tissue sarcoma and who specialize in certain areas of medicine. These may include a pediatric surgeon with special training in the removal of soft tissue sarcomas. The following specialists may also be included:
Some cancer treatments cause side effects months or years after treatment has ended.
Side effects from cancer treatment that begin during or after treatment and continue for months or years are called late effects. Late effects of cancer treatment may include:
Some late effects may be treated or controlled. It is important to talk with your child's doctors about the effects cancer treatment can have on your child. (See the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for more information.)
Seven types of standard treatment are used:
Surgery to completely remove the soft tissue sarcoma is done whenever possible. If the tumor is very large, radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be given first, to make the tumor smaller and decrease the amount of tissue that needs to be removed during surgery. The following types of surgery may be used:
A second surgery may be needed to:
Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given radiation therapy or chemotherapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant 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. Stereotactic radiation therapy aims radiation directly to a tumor, causing less damage to normal tissue around the tumor. The total dose of radiation is divided into several smaller doses given over several days. This procedure is also called stereotactic external-beam radiation therapy and stereotaxic radiation therapy.
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.
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 cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). Combination chemotherapy is the use of more than one anticancer drug. The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
See Drugs Approved for Adult and Childhood Soft Tissue Sarcoma for more information.
Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that removes hormones or blocks their action and stops cancer cells from growing. Hormones are substances made by glands in the body and circulated in the bloodstream. Some hormones can cause certain cancers to grow. If tests show that the cancer cells have places where hormones can attach (receptors), drugs, surgery, or radiation therapy is used to reduce the production of hormones or block them from working. Antiestrogens (drugs that block estrogen) may be used to treat childhood soft tissue sarcoma.
Watchful waiting is closely monitoring a patient's condition without giving any treatment until symptoms appear or change. Watchful waiting may be done when complete removal of the tumor is not possible, no other treatments are available, and the tumor does not place any vital organs in danger.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are drugs (such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen) that are commonly used to decrease fever, swelling, pain, and redness. In the treatment of soft tissue sarcomas, an NSAID called sulindac may be used to help block the growth of cancer cells.
The liver is removed and replaced with a healthy one from a donor.
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
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.
Other targeted therapies being studied in clinical trials include angiogenesis inhibitors. In cancer treatment, angiogenesis inhibitors prevent the growth of new blood vessels needed for tumors to grow.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.
Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
A link to a list of current clinical trials is included for each treatment section. For some types or stages of cancer, there may not be any trials listed. Check with your doctor for clinical trials that are not listed here but may be right for you.
Nonmetastatic Childhood Soft Tissue Sarcoma
For treatment of hemangiopericytoma (in infants and young children) and infantile fibrosarcoma
If an infant or young child has fibrosarcoma or hemangiopericytoma, treatment will be surgery whenever possible. Other treatments may include chemotherapy to reduce the size of the tumor, followed by surgery.
If an older child or adolescent has fibrosarcoma or hemangiopericytoma, treatment will be surgery whenever possible. Other treatments may include the following:
For treatment of desmoid tumor
Treatment of desmoid tumor will be surgery whenever possible. Other treatments may include watchful waiting, chemotherapy, or surgery followed by internal radiation therapy.
If surgery to completely remove the tumor is not possible, treatment to shrink the tumor before surgery may include the following:
For treatment of alveolar soft part sarcoma
Treatment of alveolar soft part sarcoma will be surgery whenever possible. Other treatments may include the following:
For treatment of clear cell sarcoma
Treatment of clear cell sarcoma will be surgery whenever possible. Radiation therapy may be given after surgery.
For treatment of desmoplastic small round cell tumor
Treatment of desmoplastic small round cell tumor may include surgery, chemotherapy (which may be given before surgery), and radiation therapy.
For treatment of extraosseous osteosarcoma
See the PDQ summary on Osteosarcoma and Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma of Bone Treatment for more information on the treatment of extraosseous osteosarcoma.
For treatment of malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor
Treatment of malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor will be surgery whenever possible. Radiation therapy may be given after surgery.
For treatment of plexiform histiocytic tumor
Treatment of plexiform histiocytic tumor is surgery to completely remove the tumor.
For treatment of synovial sarcoma
Treatment of synovial sarcoma may include the following:
For treatment of undifferentiated soft tissue sarcoma
There is no standard treatment for undifferentiated soft tissue sarcoma. Treatment may be within a clinical trial for patients with nonrhabdomyosarcomatous soft tissue sarcomas (NRSTS).
For treatment of angiosarcoma and lymphangiosarcoma
Treatment of angiosarcoma and lymphangiosarcoma may include the following:
For treatment of hemangioendothelioma
Treatment of hemangioendothelioma in children younger than one year may include the following:
Treatment of hemangioendothelioma in children aged one year and older may include the following:
For treatment of aggressive fibromatosis, dermatofibrosarcoma, and angiomatoid malignant fibrous histiocytoma
Treatment of these tumor types will be surgery whenever possible. Other treatments may include the following:
For treatment of epithelioid sarcoma, leiomyosarcoma, liposarcoma, and mesenchymal chondrosarcoma
Treatment of these tumor types will be surgery whenever possible. Other treatments may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with nonmetastatic childhood soft tissue sarcoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Metastatic Childhood Soft Tissue Sarcoma
Treatment of metastatic childhood soft tissue sarcoma may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with metastatic childhood soft tissue sarcoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Recurrent and Progressive Childhood Soft Tissue Sarcoma
Treatment of recurrent or progressive childhood soft tissue sarcoma may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent childhood soft tissue sarcoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about childhood soft tissue sarcoma, see the following:
For more childhood cancer information and other general cancer resources, see the following:
The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.
Editorial changes were made to this summary.
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PDQ also contains information on clinical trials.
A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." In the United States, about two-thirds of children with cancer are treated in a clinical trial at some point in their illness.
Listings of clinical trials are included in PDQ and are available online at NCI's Web site. Descriptions of the trials are available in health professional and patient versions. For additional help in locating a childhood cancer clinical trial, call the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
The PDQ database contains listings of groups specializing in clinical trials.
The Children's Oncology Group (COG) is the major group that organizes clinical trials for childhood cancers in the United States. Information about contacting COG is available on the NCI Web site or from the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
Last Revised: 2013-03-15
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