Treatment for soft tissue sarcoma

Main treatments

The main treatments for soft tissue sarcomas are:

  • Surgery
  • Radiotherapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Biological therapy

Your treatment will depend on the stage and grade of your cancer. The stage looks at the size of your cancer and if it has spread from where it started. The grade of the cancer can tell if your cancer grows quickly or what the cells look like under a microscope.

Surgery

Surgery is usually the main treatment for soft tissue sarcomas. Surgery aims to remove as much of the tumour as possible. The extent of the surgery will depend on the exact position of the sarcoma in your body. Your doctor might have to remove part of your limb (amputate).
Usually it is possible to remove the cancer and some of the tissue around it. This is called limb-sparing surgery. Reconstructive surgery might be done if a large area of tissue is removed. This is also known as cosmetic or plastic surgery. The aim of this surgery is to make the area look and function as normal as possible. For larger areas, a skin graft might be needed.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. It is an important part of treatment for soft tissue sarcomas, particularly those that affect your arms and legs. It can be given before surgery (neo-adjuvant) and after surgery (adjuvant therapy). Please see our Understanding Radiotherapy booklet, which you can download from our "Important cancer information booklets" list on the right hand side of this page, for more about radiotherapy, or learn more about radiotherapy here.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to cure or control cancer. Certain types of soft tissue sarcomas are always treated with chemotherapy. For other types, it is very rarely used. It can also be given before surgery to shrink the tumour (neo-adjuvant) or after surgery (adjuvant therapy). Some common drugs used for soft tissue sarcomas are doxorubicin and ifosfamide. Please see our Understanding Chemotherapy booklet, which you can download from our "Important cancer information booklets" list on the right hand side of this page, for more about chemotherapy. For more information about drugs, view our chemotherapy drug information page, or learn more about chemotherapy here.

Biological therapies

This therapy uses your body’s immune system to treat cancer. Some of the more common drugs used are imatinib (Gilvec) and sunitinib (Sutent). For more information about drugs, view our biological drug therapies information page

Learn more about biological therapy

Advanced treatment

Advanced cancer is when the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. It might be possible to keep the cancer under control by surgery or chemotherapy. But it is unlikely the cancer will be cured. Chemotherapy or radiotherapy can help to shrink the cancer to make your symptoms easier to cope with and improve your quality of life. This is called palliative treatment.

The palliative care team will visit you and support you and your family through your treatment.

Learn more about treatments

Side effects

The type of side-effects you get will depend on the type of treatment, the dose, the duration and your own general health. As surgery is often the main treatment it may cause a change to your body image. For example, if you need part of a limb amputated. Some treatments may cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and loss of appetite or hair loss. Many treatments cause tiredness (fatigue). Before you have any treatment, your doctor will talk to you about any side-effects that you might get.

For more about coping with side-effects, see the booklets Understanding ChemotherapyUnderstanding RadiotherapyCoping with FatigueDiet and Cancer and Understanding the Emotional Effects of Cancer, all available to download under the "Important cancer information booklets" list on the right hand side of this page.

Learn more about side effects

Clinical trials

If a treatment looks like it might be helpful, it is given to patients in research studies called clinical trials. Trials may be taking place at the hospital you are attending. If you are interested in taking part, talk to your doctor. He or she can tell you if the trial would suit you or not.

Learn more about clinical trials