Overall, soft tissue sarcoma has a positive 5-year survival rate. This can vary slightly according to age, sex, and treatment type.

Soft tissue sarcoma is a general term used to describe cancers that begin in the soft tissues of the body. This can include the muscles, fat, lymph nodes, or blood vessels, as well as the tendons or nerves. While soft tissue sarcoma can begin in any part of the body, they’re most frequently found in the arms, chest, legs, and abdomen.

The condition can occur in adults and children, with different treatment methods and survival rates depending on the stage in which it’s detected and the treatment methods used.

If you’re living with cancer, it’s important to understand how different factors can impact your outcome so that you can make informed decisions and know what to expect during and after treatment.

What is a relative survival rate?

A relative survival rate gives you an idea of how long someone with a specific condition may live after their diagnosis compared with someone without the condition.

For example, a 5-year relative survival rate of 70% means that someone with that condition is 70% as likely to live for 5 years as someone without the condition.

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Survival rates for soft tissue sarcoma can vary widely and can be influenced by the type of treatment you may undergo and how early the disease was discovered. Treatments can include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, or a combination of the above.

While surgery is the most common treatment method, other options may be employed depending on the surgery’s effectiveness at removing the tumor.

Likewise, people with more advanced forms of soft tissue sarcoma or types that are more resistant to traditional treatment methods may have different survival rates than those that discover it early. Soft tissue sarcoma may become difficult to treat in advanced stages.

Note that survival rates are usually listed with 5 years as the baseline. This means that any percentages listed for survival rates refer to someone living 5 years or more after being diagnosed with this type and stage of cancer.

This can give you a better understanding of the treatments’ effectiveness so you can manage your expectations. In general, soft tissue sarcoma in adults has a general 65% survival rate. But if it’s found and treated early before cancer spreads, that percentage increases to 81%.

Soft tissue sarcomas are diagnosed by stages, with a total possibility of one of four stages being listed.

However, when reviewing survival rates, the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program database from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Cancer Institute combines all of the stages in its survival statistical analysis.

Rather than the diagnostic stages that oncologists use, SEER relies on localized, regional, or distant stages:

  • Localized: The cancer is limited to the initial part of the body where it’s discovered and doesn’t spread.
  • Regional: The cancer spreads to nearby areas or lymph nodes in the body.
  • Distant: The cancer has spread to distant parts of the body like the organs.

With this in mind, as of the most recent data collected between 2000 to 2018, the 5-year survival rates across all stages is 67.5% for females and 64.7% for males.

Here are the percentages when we adjust for the SEER definition of stages:

  • Localized soft tissue sarcoma has a 5-year survival rate of 81.2% for females and 81.6% for males.
  • Regional soft tissue sarcoma has a 5-year survival rate of 60.2% for females and 52.9% for males.
  • Distant soft tissue sarcoma has a 5-year survival rate of 19% for females and 17.8% for males.
  • Unstaged soft tissue sarcomas (someone who had soft tissue sarcoma but wasn’t diagnosed with a specific stage) have a 5-year survival rate of 58% in females and 41% in males.

Language matters

In this article, we use “male and female” to refer to someone’s sex as determined by their chromosomes, and “men and women” when referring to their gender (unless quoting from sources using nonspecific language).

Sex is determined by chromosomes, and gender is a social construct that can vary between time periods and cultures. Both of these aspects are acknowledged to exist on a spectrum both historically and by modern scientific consensus.

Unfortunately, the studies quoted in this article made no reference to the inclusion of transgender people and can be assumed to have entirely cisgender participants. If you’re a transgender or gender non-conforming person on hormone treatments and are curious how this can affect your representation in clinical trials, click here to learn more.

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Undifferentiated vs. differentiated soft tissue survival rates

“Undifferentiated cancer” simply means that the soft tissue sarcoma doesn’t follow the standard cues that are normally used to diagnose this type of cancer.

Note this can also be referred to as “unclassified soft tissue sarcomas.” However, when determining survival rates, this classification usually isn’t referenced.

Soft tissue sarcoma can develop in people of all ages, but survival rates vary.

Across all ages and stages, data pulled between 2000 through 2018 on SEER lists a general 5-year survival rate of 67.5% for females and 64.7 for males. Here’s how they break it down by age range:

Age rangeFive-year survival rate
for females
Five-year survival rate
for males
younger than 1573.7%78.2%
75 and older47.7%55.3%

Keep in mind that survival rates are also closely tied to the current soft tissue sarcoma stage and how far the cancer has spread. So a person diagnosed in stage 1 with a localized tumor who opts to begin a treatment method quickly will — typically — have a better survival rate than someone diagnosed in stage 4.

However, every cancer case is unique. Having other underlying health concerns, combining treatments, and even external factors may also impact overall survival rates. Let’s look at what the studies have shown thus far:

  • According to a 2018 study specifically reviewing the effectiveness of repeat surgical treatment as the primary solution for removing initial and recurrent tumors, the 5-year survival rate was 70%, and the 10-year survival rate was 44%.
  • 2009 study that reviewed the records of patients who underwent radiation therapy noted that the 3-year survival rate was 73%. However, it’s important to remember that radiation therapy usually isn’t recommended alone. This is usually done in conjunction with surgery to remove any remaining cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed during the operation.
  • A 2019 study that reviewed soft tissue sarcoma patient data in South Korea found that the general 5-year survival rate was 28.6% for those who received chemotherapy as part of their treatment plan. But in this study, people who received chemotherapy usually had more advanced forms of soft tissue sarcoma.

It’s a huge understatement to say that cancer can be a life changing event. Not only does the disease take a toll on the body, but it can also impact mental health.

Proper resources are critical in helping not just those with cancer, but their family and support group work as well. You may also need access to mental health care services even if the cancer is in remission.

You may consider joining a local cancer support network in your region. You can ask their oncology team for recommendations. Some groups may be held at the same location where you receive treatment.

Likewise, there are online communities that can provide virtual support around managing emotions and expectations. They can also share information about topics like new clinical trials. Here are some online communities to consider:

  • The American Cancer Society has a Cancer Survivors Network with online communities that are further divided into cancer-specific groups.
  • Caring Bridge is another online platform that allows people to create a dedicated webpage to share information, photos, and updates with loved ones. While it’s not limited to cancer, the easy-to-use platform makes it a popular option.
  • The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has a list of resources to aid people with cancer in finding advocates, emotional support, and critical information to aid in their treatment process.

In addition to support groups, working with a therapist can also be helpful when processing intense emotions and adjusting to drastic changes in life.

Emotional support for the families of people with cancer

While cancer physically impacts one individual, that person’s family and friends are also affected by that diagnosis. Families of people with cancer can also benefit from working with a therapist or connecting with cancer treatment support groups that will provide a caring ear, advice, and a sense of fellowship:

  • The American Cancer Society also has resources for caregivers and families of those with cancer.
  • Cancer Support Community provides support and guidance for family and friends of those with cancer, both online and by calling (888) 793-9355.

Want to get involved in clinical trials for new treatments?

If you’ve been diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma, you may be interested in enrolling in clinical trials for experimental treatments. However, not everyone is a good candidate for joining a trial.

You can learn more about the trials that are currently looking for participants at ClinicalTrails.gov.

Make sure to always discuss with your primary doctor and oncology team before starting any clinical trial, especially if it would interfere with any of your ongoing cancer treatments or other medications.

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If you’ve tried treatment methods but soft tissue sarcoma continues to return or is unresponsive, or if you’re in late-stage cancer, considering end-of-life planning may be an unexpected but inevitable reality.

You, your caregivers, and your friends and family may need to consider factors such as hospice care when to consider ending treatment. This includes creating a plan that incorporates your final wishes regarding health directives such as do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders.

You may also want to talk with your loved ones about your plan for your will and any wishes you have regarding your funeral or memorial service.

Approaching the end of life can be a frightening process, but some do find a hopeful way forward. When you look at end-of-life planning, you may find it emotionally healing to work with a death doula, attend a living funeral, or simply find your own way of celebrating life with those you love.

While health outcomes are generally positive for soft tissue sarcomas, individual results will vary based on how early the cancer was detected, how far the cancer has advanced, and the treatment methods used.

Early detection and prompt treatment are usually the best defenses against cancer. Likewise, having a strong support system that can provide emotional support is critical.

Talk with your doctor or oncology team if you need help finding mental health care. You can also read this article on how to find the right therapist for you.