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Childhood Soft Tissue Sarcoma Diagnosis

Soft tissue sarcomas are complex and can grow in many different areas of the body. This means they often are difficult to diagnose correctly. However, an accurate diagnosis is crucial to successful treatment. An incorrect diagnosis may actually be harmful.

If at all possible, the first biopsy should be at the cancer center where your child will be treated. Try to go to a cancer center that sees a large number of pediatric sarcoma patients and has a specialized pediatric sarcoma team that includes specialized pathologists.

At MD Anderson's Children's Cancer Hospital, we see more children with soft tissue sarcoma than most hospitals. Our specialized experts have a remarkable level of skill, which helps them pinpoint the location and extent of the sarcoma.

We have the latest methods and technology to be sure your child gets the most accurate diagnosis possible. This can make a difference in the success of treatment.

Soft tissue sarcoma diagnostic tests

If your child has symptoms that may indicate a soft tissue sarcoma, the doctor will examine your child closely. The doctor will ask questions about your child's health and medical history, and your family's medical history.

One or more of the following diagnostic tests may be used to find out if your child has a soft tissue sarcoma and if it has spread. These tests also may be used to find out if treatment is working.


The only way to be certain your child has a soft tissue sarcoma is a biopsy. This means to remove some cells from the tumor to look at with a microscope. Surrounding tissue and lymph nodes may be biopsied too. Imaging tests may be used before or after biopsy to determine the location and extent of the tumor.

The doctor will choose one of the following types of biopsy depending on where the tumor is:

  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA): A tiny needle is guided into the mass and suction is applied. CT (computed tomography) scans may be used to help guide the needle. If the test shows that the tumor may be a soft tissue sarcoma, another type of biopsy will be done to remove a larger piece of tissue.
  • Core needle: The doctor uses a needle slightly larger than the one used in an FNA biopsy to remove a cylindrical sample of tissue.
  • Incisional: An incision (cut) is made in the skin and a small part of tumor is removed.
  • Excisional: An incision is made in the skin and the entire growth is removed surgically.

Imaging tests

Several imaging tests can be used to diagnose soft tissue sarcoma, which may include:

  • CT or CAT (computed axial tomography) scans
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scans
  • Chest X-ray
  • Ultrasound

Getting a second opinion at children’s cancer hospital

The pediatric cancer experts at Children’s Cancer Hospital welcome the opportunity to provide second opinions for soft tissue sarcoma.

If you would like to get a second opinion at Children’s Cancer Hospital, call 877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

Clinical Trials

MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.

Knowledge Center

Find the latest news and information about childhood soft tissue sarcoma in our Knowledge Center, including blog posts, articles, videos, news releases and more.