Soft tissue sarcoma


Soft tissue sarcoma causes tumors to grow in the soft tissues. Soft tissues include:

  • Muscles
  • Blood vessels
  • Nerves
  • Fat

There are 40 to 50 different types of soft tissue sarcomas. Cancer is classified based on its pathology and where in the body it is located. Symptoms will vary depending on the type of soft tissue sarcoma.

These are some types of soft tissue sarcomas:

  • Spindle cell sarcomas - These cancers look like the fibrous tissue of tendons and ligaments. They are usually found in the leg, arm, or the torso (the area between the shoulders and hips).
  • Liposarcomas - These cancer cells look like fat cells. Although they can be found anywhere in the body, they usually start in the abdomen or thighs.
  • Synovial sarcomas - This is cancer of the synovial tissue. Synovial tissue surrounds joints, and includes tendons and bursae. Bursae are the fluid-filled, cushioning sacs found between tendons, ligaments, and bones.
  • Leiomyosarcomas - These cancer cells look like smooth muscle cells. They are often found in the abdomen and uterus, but are also found in the leg and arm muscles.
  • Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor - This cancer is also known as neurofibrosarcoma or malignant schwannoma. It is cancer of the cells that wrap around nerves. This tumor is rare, but may be seen in people with other genetic problems, such as neurofibromatosis.
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors - While there are several cancers that can develop in the digestive tract, gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) are the most common sarcoma of the digestive tract. Our team is experienced in the diagnosis, surgical removal and treatment of GIST. GI stromal tumors can appear anywhere along the digestive tract, but are mainly found in the stomach and small intestine. 
  • Ewing sarcoma - This cancer is closely related to another kind of tumor known as a small blue cell tumor or a peripheral neuroectodermal tumor. Ewing sarcoma is a tumor of young cells. It can start in almost any tissue of the body, including soft tissue and bone. This type of tumor is more common in children.
  • Retroperitoneal sarcomas - Retroperitoneal sarcomas are rare neoplasms. CT or MR imaging is performed in patients with these tumors to detect local extent and distant metastases of the tumor and for preoperative surgical planning. Most sarcomas cannot be characterized as to cell type with CT or MR, with the exceptions being liposarcomas and intracaval leiomyosarcomas. Similarly histological grading cannot be made definitively with imaging alone, the exception being liposarcoma since well differentiated liposarcomas contain more macroscopic fat than do less differentiated liposarcomas.

Our approach

Soft tissue sarcoma is a rare type of tumor that takes many different forms. That is why it is important to choose a team with expertise in caring specifically for this type of cancer-an approach that goes beyond what a general oncologist can usually offer. Northwell Health has a network of specialists with decades of experience in diagnosing and treating soft tissue sarcomas. They use the latest techniques and have access to the most state-of-the-art technology. 

The many convenient locations throughout the New York metropolitan area make it easy for patients to access quality treatment, close to home.

Northwell Health believes in treating every patient with the highest level of compassion and respect. The team members make sure to answer all of the patient’s questions and highly value input every step of the way.  The team works with the patient to assess the condition and develop a personalized treatment plan that is most appropriate.

The physicians also make sure to keep each patient’s primary care physician updated on their condition. After the first consultation, the team will send the patient’s doctor a letter letting him or her know what the treatment plan is. After completing treatment, the team will update the patient’s doctor on the condition and plan for follow-up care.

Expert Soft Tissue Sarcoma Team

The Northwell Health approach to care is highly collaborative. That means the physicians work together with a wide network of specialists to provide the highest standard of care for each patient.

First, the patient will meet with one of the experts in soft tissue sarcomas. The experts each have specialized training and many years of experience in diagnosing and treating soft tissue sarcomas.

Often, cancer patients have additional medical problems that need attention. It is critical to have a team that understands all of a patient’s conditions and takes them into account when developing a treatment plan. The physicians collaborate with specialists in the wider Northwell Health, including gastroenterologists and cardiologists, to support each patient’s care. These specialists have experience working specifically with cancer patients and consult with the team regularly. Patients benefit from this coordinated approach to care.

The team also holds regular tumor board review meetings where they discuss patient progress and share ideas about the best options for treatment.

Tumor Board and Partnerships

Treating rare cancers like soft tissue sarcoma takes the collective expertise of cancer specialists. That’s why the team members hold regular tumor board meetings to discuss the best treatment options for patients. In some cases, they collaborate with specialists from other leading cancer centers to review pathology to develop a treatment plan.

The collaborative approach with other cancer centers helps improve patient outcomes. Patients benefit from having a variety of experts work together to develop the best treatment plan designed just for them.

Risk factors

Patients often wonder why soft tissue sarcoma affects them. Certain risk factors contribute to developing soft tissue sarcoma. These can include:

  • Genetic syndromes, such as retinoblastoma, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Werner syndrome, and Neurofibromatosis type 1
  • Prior exposure to radiation
  • Prior exposure to certain chemicals, such as arsenic, vinyl chloride and thorium dioxide


Specialists will use diagnostic tools to determine the presence of soft tissue sarcoma, including:

  • A physical exam to look for signs of cancer elsewhere in the body
  • Blood work
  • Additional scans such as x-rays, MRIs or CT scans, to see if the cancer has spread

Soft Tissue Sarcoma Biopsy

The doctor will confirm a soft tissue diagnosis through a biopsy. This means a doctor will remove part of the tumor. Then, a pathologist with extensive experience in sarcomas will review the sample under a microscope and will confirm a soft tissue sarcoma diagnosis.

If a patient has had a biopsy elsewhere, a pathologist will have to review the biopsy to verify the diagnosis and determine whether the patient needs any additional reviews or tests. Determining the exact kind of soft tissue sarcoma will help the doctor develop the most effective treatment plan.

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