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Soft tissue cancers


Treatment for soft tissue cancers

Treatment

You will be cared for by a multi-disciplinary team (MDT) of health professionals during your treatment for soft tissue sarcoma, which may include a surgeon, dietician, physiotherapist and counsellor, among others. 

Your doctor will help you decide on the best treatment for your sarcoma depending on:

  • the type of sarcoma you have
  • where it is in your body
  • whether or not the cancer has spread (its stage)
  • your age, fitness and general health
  • your preferences. 

Your guide to best cancer care

A lot can happen in a hurry when you’re diagnosed with cancer. The guide to best cancer care for sarcoma (bone and soft tissue tumours) can help you make sense of what should happen. It will help you with what questions to ask your health professionals to make sure you receive the best care at every step.

Please note: work is currently underway to refresh the guide to best cancer care for sarcoma. 

Read the guide

Surgery

Surgery is the main treatment for most types of soft tissue sarcoma. It usually involves removing the cancer and some healthy tissue around the cancer, which is called a wide local excision. The healthy tissue is removed to help reduce the risk of the cancer coming back in that area.

The type of operation depends on where the sarcoma is. Most sarcomas are in the arm or leg, which usually means having limb-sparing surgery. Amputation is less common but can also occur. The most important thing is that you have your surgery done by an experienced surgeon working in a specialist centre for sarcoma.

Looking after yourself

There is no right way to feel if you have been diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma. Feeling a range of emotions is normal and many people need support before, during and after treatment, particularly if they have major surgery like an amputation or a lot of tissue is removed.

It can help to talk things through with a counsellor, psychologist, friend or family member. You can also call Cancer Council on13 11 20 to learn about what practical, financial and peer support services are available. 

Get support

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy (also known as radiotherapy) uses high energy rays to destroy cancer cells. It does not hurt and is usually given in small doses over a period of time to minimise side effects. Sarcoma is known to be very sensitive to radiation therapy. It may be used:

  • before surgery, to destroy the cancer cells and create a ‘rind’ around the cancer, which helps the surgeon to perform good surgery
  • if the cancer is too big to remove with surgery
  • if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body
  • after surgery, to destroy any remaining cancer cells and stop the cancer coming back
  • if the cancer is in a place in the body that is too hard to reach using surgery.

Radiation therapy can shrink the cancer down to a smaller size, which may help to make surgery easier. Sometimes chemotherapy is given as well as radiation therapy, to help make the treatment more effective. This depends on the type of sarcoma.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. You may have one chemotherapy drug, or a combination of drugs, because different drugs can destroy or shrink cancer cells in different ways. Your treatment will depend on your situation and the type of sarcoma you have. It may also be used to help stop a sarcoma coming back after surgery. 

Most often chemotherapy is given through a drip into a vein (intravenously) or as a tablet that is swallowed. It can also be given as a cream or as injections into different parts of the body.

Chemotherapy is commonly given in treatment cycles which may be daily, weekly or monthly. The length of the cycle and number of cycles depends on the chemotherapy drugs being given. 

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy uses drugs to target specific genes and proteins that are involved in the growth and survival of cancer cells.

While chemotherapy affects all rapidly dividing cells and works by killing cancerous cells (cytotoxic), targeted therapy attacks specific molecules within cells and often works by blocking cell growth (cytostatic). People with soft tissue sarcomas may be offered targeted therapies such as pazopanib (Votrient) to slow the growth of the tumour. 

Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies are designed to be used alongside conventional medical treatments and can increase your sense of control, decrease stress and anxiety, and improve your mood. Some Australian cancer centres have developed “integrative oncology” services where evidence-based complementary therapies are combined with conventional treatments to improve both wellbeing and clinical outcomes.

Involvement in clinical trials and research

Doctors run clinical trials to test new or modified treatments and ways of diagnosing disease to see if they are better than current methods. Over the years, trials have improved treatments and led to better outcomes for people diagnosed with cancer.

Find out more

For information on gastro-intestinal stromal sarcoma (GIST) clinical trials contact the Australasian Gastro-Intestinal Trials Group (AGITG). You can also visit Australian Cancer Trials and the Australia and New Zealand Sarcoma Association (ANZSA) for more.

You may wish to be involved in research in addition to clinical trials, or perhaps because you and your doctor can’t find a clinical trial suitable for your needs. Some research studies enable your cancer to be studied in more detail in the laboratory. These studies will require samples of your cancer tissue and other tissues, such as your blood, and your clinical data to be collected.

Life after treatment

Once your treatment has finished, you will have regular check-ups to confirm that the cancer hasn’t come back. 

For some people soft tissue sarcoma does come back after treatment, which is known as a recurrence. This is most likely to happen within the first five years after treatment. If the cancer does come back, treatment will depend on where the cancer has returned in your body and may include a mix of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

In some cases of advanced cancer, treatment will focus on managing any symptoms, such as pain, and improving your quality of life without trying to cure the disease. This is called palliative treatment and it can be provided in the home, in a hospital, in a palliative care unit or hospice. 

Question checklist

This checklist may be helpful when thinking about questions to ask your doctor.

  • What type of soft tissue sarcoma do I have?
  • What has caused my soft tissue sarcoma?
  • Is my family more at risk of soft tissue sarcoma?
  • Have you treated this type of cancer before?
  • Has the cancer spread? 
  • What is the best type of treatment for my cancer?
  • Is it possible to have surgery to cure my cancer? If so, which type will I need and why?
  • Will I need to have any other type of treatment, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy?
  • How effective is radiation therapy and chemotherapy for my type of sarcoma? 
  • If my cancer has spread outside the area it began, what treatment options are there for me?
  • What are the possible risks and side effects of my treatment? How will these be managed?
  • What are the possible benefits and risks to me joining a clinical trial?
  • What is being tested in this clinical trial and why?
  • How many people will be involved in this trial?
  • If I cannot get onto a clinical trial can I still pay for a drug that is currently in trial?

   

Understanding Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Download our Understanding Soft Tissue Sarcoma fact sheet to learn more.

Download now

 

 

Expert content reviewers:

Dr Susie Bae, Medical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Tony Bice, Consumer; Dr Denise Caruso, CEO Australian and New Zealand Sarcoma Association, VIC; Emma Gardner, Nurse Coordinator, Bone and Soft Tissue Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jonathan Granek, Consumer; Thelma Lobb, Consumer.

Page last updated:

The information on this webpage was adapted from Understanding Soft Tissue Sarcoma - A guide for people affected by cancer (2021 edition). This webpage was last updated in June 2021. 

 

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