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A soft tissue sarcoma is a relatively uncommon type of cancerous tumor that can develop in a muscle, tendon, ligament, synovial membrane, blood vessel or nerve. These soft tissues connect, support and surround other bodily structures.

There are several types of soft tissue tumors, each of which develops in a specific area and has a distinct cellular makeup. While sarcomas can occur anywhere within the body, they most often affect the head, neck, abdomen, arms or legs.

What are the signs of a soft tissue sarcoma?

The most common sign of a soft tissue sarcoma is a painless lump or swelling under the skin. However, a tumor that develops in the abdomen may not produce any symptoms until it grows very large. As a sarcoma increases in size, it can potentially put pressure on nearby nerves, organs, muscles or blood vessels. If this occurs, it may cause:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Black, tarry or bloody stools
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss

How are soft tissue sarcomas diagnosed?

If a physician suspects a soft tissue sarcoma, he or she will likely order some imaging scans as well as an incisional, core or excisional biopsy. The type of biopsy performed will be based on the size and location of the tumor. After a tissue sample is obtained from a suspicious area, a pathologist will examine the sample under a microscope to look for cancerous cells.

As with all types of cancer, catching a sarcoma early can often allow for a wider range of treatment options. Prompt and appropriate treatment can significantly increase the likelihood of achieving the best possible outcome and quality of life.

If you’d like to learn more about soft tissue sarcomas, you are encouraged to talk with a member of the multispecialty team in the Sarcoma Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. You can request an appointment with or without a referral by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online.