Treatments for soft tissue sarcoma
Soft tissue sarcomas are uncommon, but very complex, tumours. If your doctor thinks you have soft tissue sarcoma, they will refer you to a clinic that has doctors who specialize in treating these types of tumours. These clinics are in all the major centres across Canada. Doctors at these clinics have different specialities, and treatment planning involves these doctors working as a team. Working as a team means the best overall treatment plan is made for you. This multidisciplinary approach helps improve treatment and outcomes for this disease.
The healthcare team at the specialized clinic will assess you, make a diagnosis and then create a treatment plan just for you. This treatment plan is based on your needs and may include a combination of different treatments. When deciding which treatments to offer for soft tissue sarcoma, your healthcare team will consider:
- tumour location
- tumour size
- type of soft tissue sarcoma
- your general health
- your personal preferences
You may be offered the following treatments for soft tissue sarcoma.
Surgery is the most common treatment for soft tissue sarcomas. Different types of surgery are used depending on the size and location of the tumour. The following types of surgery may be offered for soft tissue sarcoma.
Wide local excision removes all of the tumour plus a margin of healthy tissue around it.
Limb-sparing surgery removes the tumour in an arm or leg without removing the entire limb (amputation). This approach saves the function and appearance of the limb.
Amputation removes part or all of a limb or appendage, such as an arm or toe. Sometimes tumours can be very large or affect vital structures and amputation is the only way to make sure all of the tumour is removed.
Plastic surgery is used to rebuild soft tissues in the affected area. It may be needed if a large amount of tissue is removed along with the tumour. Plastic surgery can improve how the treated area looks and functions.
In some cases, surgery may be done to remove a soft tissue sarcoma that has spread to the lung.
Radiation therapy for soft tissue sarcoma can be given externally, which is called external beam radiation therapy. It can also be given internally, which is called brachytherapy.
Radiation therapy may be used before surgery to help shrink a tumour so it is easier to remove. It may be used after surgery to destroy cancer cells left behind and to reduce the risk of cancer coming back or recurring. It may be used instead of surgery if the tumour is unresectable (can’t be removed) or you are not well enough to have surgery.
Radiation therapy can also be used to relieve symptoms of advanced soft tissue sarcoma.
Radiation therapy may or may not be combined with chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy may be used for certain types of soft tissue sarcoma. It may be given before surgery to help shrink a tumour so it is easier to remove. It may be used after surgery to destroy cancer cells left behind and reduce the risk that soft tissue sarcoma will come back, or recur.
Chemotherapy can also be used to relieve symptoms of advanced cancer.
Chemotherapy may or may not be combined with radiation therapy.
The type of drugs used will depend on the type of soft tissue sarcoma. It is often more effective when a combination of drugs is used, rather than a single drug.
Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. You will need to have regular follow-up visits, especially in the first 5 years after treatment. These visits allow your healthcare team to monitor your progress and recovery from treatment.
A few clinical trials in Canada are open to people with soft tissue sarcoma. Clinical trials look at new and better ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.
Questions to ask about treatment
To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about treatment.