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About soft tissue sarcomas

Find out about who gets soft tissue sarcomas, where they start and how common they are.

Who gets it

Soft tissue sarcomas are rare cancers. Around 4 in 10 (43%) soft tissue sarcomas are diagnosed in people over 65 years old.

We don’t know what causes most soft tissue sarcoma cancers. But there are some factors that may increase your risk of developing it. Having any of these risk factors does not mean that you will definitely develop cancer. 

What soft tissue sarcomas are

Soft tissue sarcomas are cancers that develop from soft tissue. Soft tissue is a term used to describe all the supporting tissues in the body, apart from the bones. It includes:

  • fat
  • muscle
  • blood vessels
  • deep skin tissues
  • nerves
  • tendons and ligaments
  • the tissues around the joints (synovial tissues)
diagram of the soft tissue in the body

Together, these tissues are known as connective tissues. They connect, support or surround other structures or organs in the body.

Where sarcomas can grow

Soft tissue is in all parts of the body. So soft tissue sarcomas can develop and grow almost anywhere. If a sarcoma is not treated, the cells continue to divide and the sarcoma will grow in size.

The growth of the sarcoma causes a lump in the soft tissues. This can cause pressure on any body tissues or organs nearby.

Over time, sarcoma cells from the original area may break away. If the cells get into the bloodstream they can spread to other areas of the body. These cells can then form new areas of sarcoma, which are known as secondary cancers or metastases.

Sarcomas most commonly spread to the lungs. Sometimes they may spread to the bones.

Where it starts

Soft tissue sarcomas can develop in any of the soft connective tissues of the body. There are many different types.

How common it is

Soft tissue sarcomas are rare cancers. Around 3,300 people are diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma each year in the UK. That’s around 9 cases diagnosed every day. The number of people diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma has increased since the late 1990s.

Last reviewed: 
05 Feb 2015
  • Principles and practice of oncology (9th edition)
    VT De Vita, S Hellman and SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2011

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