Advanced soft tissue sarcoma is a condition in which cancer cells have formed in your body’s soft tissues to an extent that treatment is unlikely to control or cure the cancer.

The American Cancer Society estimates that doctors will diagnose 13,400 new soft tissue sarcomas in 2023. Some of these new cases will be more specifically labeled as advanced soft tissue sarcoma.

If you or someone you know has received a diagnosis of advanced soft tissue sarcoma, you may be wondering what this means and what treatment options are available.

It’s important to discuss any medical concerns with your doctor. But we’ve gathered some information about advanced soft tissue sarcoma to help you feel prepared to start these discussions.

Soft tissue sarcoma is a disease in which cancer cells form in the soft tissues of your body. A diagnosis of advanced soft tissue sarcoma means that the condition has reached a point at which doctors do not believe treatment can fully control or cure it.

Soft tissues are those that connect, support, and surround your body parts and organs. Soft tissues include:

  • muscles
  • tendons
  • fat
  • blood vessels
  • lymph vessels
  • nerves
  • tissues around joints

Soft tissue sarcomas can develop almost anywhere in your body. However, they are most commonly found in the arms, the legs, the abdomen, and the retroperitoneum (the area behind the abdomen).

More than 50 types of soft tissue sarcomas exist, and they will look different under a microscope depending on the type of soft tissue they began in. If healthcare professionals find a sarcoma, they will then perform a biopsy to determine what type of soft tissue sarcoma you have.

After diagnosis, healthcare professionals will also perform tests to determine whether the cancer has spread within the soft tissue to other parts of your body. This process, called staging, helps determine how serious the cancer is and what the best treatment options may be.

As a general rule, a lower stage number (1 or 2) means that cancer has not spread or has spread minimally throughout your body, while a higher number (3 or 4) indicates greater spread.

While every person’s experience with cancer is unique, cancers in similar stages tend to have similar outlooks and treatment needs.

Advanced” refers to cancer that is unlikely to be controllable or curable with treatment. Advanced cancer is also sometimes called end stage cancer or terminal stage cancer.

“Metastatic” means cancer has spread to other areas of your body. It’s important to note that metastatic cancer is sometimes also referred to as terminal stage cancer, but these are not always the same thing.

If you have a family history of soft tissue sarcoma, you may wish to talk with a doctor about genetic testing and its potential benefits for early detection.

Soft tissue sarcoma may appear as a painless lump under your skin. These lumps frequently occur on an arm or leg.

On the other hand, sarcomas in your abdomen may not show any symptoms until they are bigger.

As sarcomas grow and press against nearby organs, nerves, blood vessels, and muscles, they may cause pain and trouble with breathing. Soft tissue sarcoma in your abdomen can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, and bloody or black stools.

Because other conditions may cause these same symptoms, it’s important to check with your doctor for diagnosis.

Treatment for advanced soft tissue sarcoma depends on a variety of factors, such as:

  • the type of soft tissue sarcoma
  • the location of the sarcoma
  • your general health

People with advanced forms of cancer may choose not to have treatment for a variety of reasons. They may wish to focus on preserving their quality of life in the time they may have left. Even if you choose not to treat your cancer, you can get care to help reduce pain and other symptoms.

However, some people with advanced forms of cancer do choose treatment to try to extend their lives as much as possible, even if they know that treatment is not likely to fully control or cure the cancer.

Treatment options that your doctor may present include:

You may also hear about alternative or complementary treatments such as vitamins, herbs, special diets, acupuncture, and massage. If you’re considering any of these, it’s important to discuss them with your medical team, who can advise you on what is known (or not known) about the effectiveness of these treatments.

Your doctor may also mention the option of a clinical trial to you. The availability and opportunity to participate in one can vary. And, as with any treatment option, you’ll want to discuss the potential risks and benefits with your doctor before enrolling.

Survival rates are low for people with advanced soft tissue sarcoma. According to one 2020 study, the median survival time for people with a diagnosis of advanced soft tissue sarcoma is typically less than 12 months.

Of those whose soft tissue sarcoma is detected before it is advanced, 5–30% will experience local recurrences and 10–38% will have detectable spread of their cancer.

Metastatic soft tissue sarcoma also has a low life expectancy. The median reported survival time is 14–20 months.

Advanced soft tissue sarcoma is an extremely serious condition in which cancer cells have formed in the soft tissues of your body to a point that treatment is unlikely to control or cure the cancer.

If you receive a diagnosis of advanced soft tissue sarcoma, you’ll want to work with your healthcare team to determine the best treatment plan for you. This may include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.