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Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Soft-tissue tumors can develop in every type of soft tissue in the body, including nerves, fat, muscle, tendons, the lining of joints, blood vessels, or lymph vessels. They may be cancerous or benign. Cancerous tumors are usually found in the legs and arms, and less frequently in the trunk, abdomen, and head and neck region. 

UC San Diego Health is a high-volume referral center for sarcoma care, offering advanced treatments unavailable at most community hospitals.

Treatment for Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Treatment options for soft-tissue sarcomas include surgery, radiation therapy, and sometimes chemotherapy. The combination of treatments will depend on the type and stage of the sarcoma.


The primary treatment for most soft tissue sarcomas is surgery to remove the tumor. UC San Diego Health surgeons are experienced in treating these rare cancers, and use the latest advances in surgical techniques, including new organ-sparing procedures to completely remove tumors while preserving nearby organs and function. In cases where organs or vessels do needs to be removed, we can perform reconstructive or vascular surgery to maintain function.

Radiation therapy

Although surgery is the primary treatment for most sarcomas, radiation therapy is often used as an additional treatment. 

UC San Diego Health radiation oncologists use the most advanced technologies available to precisely target cancer cells and reduce damage to surrounding healthy tissues. Therapeutic radiation may be used before surgery to shrink a tumor, or after surgery to destroy any cancer cells left behind.


Chemotherapy may be used to shrink tumors and make the tumor easier to remove through surgery or radiation treatment. 

Diagnosis of Soft Tissue Sarcoma

At UC San Diego Health, patients undergo a thorough evaluation to obtain an accurate diagnosis and staging of any cancer. This evaluation may include blood work and imaging studies. Your doctor may also recommend a biopsy so tissue samples can be examined by a pathologist under a microscope. The type of biopsy will be based on the size and location of the tumor. Biopsy types include:

  • Incisional biopsy: The removal of part of a lump or a sample of tissue
  • Core biopsy: The removal of tissue using a wide needle

Staging of Soft Tissue Sarcoma 

The stage of a cancer describes its size and whether it has spread beyond its original area of the body. In sarcoma staging, doctors also evaluate the appearance of the tumor under the microscope and judge how fast the cancer seems to be growing.

Types of Soft Tissue Sarcomas

There are at least 60 different types of soft tissue sarcoma. We treat all types, including:

  • Liposarcoma: Develops from fat cells, and occurs most commonly in the legs (at the back of the knee and thigh) and in the abdominal area. The most common form of soft tissue sarcoma, it usually occurs in people between 50 and 70.
  • Leiomyosarcoma: This rare tumor develops from the tissue that makes up involuntary muscle. It occurs most commonly in the abdomen and extremities and tends to be very aggressive.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma: This very rare cancer generally develops in muscle tissue and is most common in children and young adults.
  • Synovial sarcomas: This tumor develops near joints (often the legs and arms) and is named for its molecular resemblance to synovial tissue, the tissue lining of the joints.  
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors: Gastric sarcomas, also called GIST, develop in the cells that line the walls of the gastrointestinal tract. UC San Diego Health is one of only a few medical centers on the West Coast that regularly treats these rare cancers. 
  • Fibrosarcoma: Develops in the fibrous tissue found at the end of long bones in the arms and legs, and in the trunk. It's most common in adults under 60.
  • Undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma: These develop in fibrous tissue in the arms and legs and occur most often in older adults.
  • Angiosarcomas: These develop in the blood or in lymph vessels and are then found in skin, soft tissue, liver, breast, spleen, bone, lung and heart.
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma: This cancer of the lining of the lymph or blood vessels occurs most often in patients with AIDS.

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We now use genetic testing to analyze tumors and tailor cancer treatments to individual patients.

See Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy.