According to the American Cancer Society, more than 10,500 cases of sarcoma, or 2% of all cancers, are diagnosed in the United States each year. Slightly more than half of these are in males.
Sarcomas can start anywhere in the body. Typically, they develop in the soft tissues that surround, connect or support the body’s structure and organs. This includes muscles, joints, tendons, fat, blood vessels, nerves and tissues. They also can begin in the body’s organs.
Some soft-tissue sarcomas are benign (not cancer), and others are malignant (cancer). There are more than 30 types of sarcoma, making each extremely rare. Sarcomas are classified into groups that have similar types of cancer cells and symptoms. They usually are named for the type of tissue where they start. Sarcomas within a classification often are treated the same way.
The main types of soft-tissue sarcoma begin in:
- Muscle tissue
- Peripheral nerve tissue
- Joint tissue
- Blood and lymph vessels
- Fibrous tissue
Sarcomas of uncertain tissue type: In this type of sarcoma, doctors are not able to determine the exact type of tissue where the cancer began.
Soft Tissue Sarcoma Risk Factors
Anything that increases your chance of getting cancer is a risk factor. For sarcoma, risk factors include:
Inherited genetic conditions such as:
- Von Recklinghausen disease
- Li-Fraumeni syndrome
- Gardner syndrome
- Inherited retinoblastoma
- Werner syndrome
- Gorlin syndrome
- Tuberous sclerosis
Other risk factors include:
- Damage or removal of lymph nodes during previous cancer treatments.
- Exposure to vinyl chloride, a chemical used in making plastics.
- Previous radiation treatment for another cancer.
Not everyone with risk factors gets sarcoma. However, if you have risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your health care provider.
Some cases of soft tissue sarcoma can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetic counseling may be right for you. Learn more about the risk to you and your family on our genetic testing page.