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Find out about the latest UK research into soft tissue sarcoma.

Understanding sarcoma cells

Cancer researchers study both normal and cancer cells. This way they can find out more about the disease, and what goes wrong within the cell. 

Some genes can predict how the cancer will respond to chemotherapy. These genes are called multi drug resistance (MDR) genes. Doctors might be able to use this in the future to choose treatments for people with sarcoma. Your surgeon might ask to store some of your sarcoma tissue in a tissue bank for future research. 


Some people have a soft tissue sarcoma affecting the soft tissues behind the organs in their tummy (abdomen). This is called a retroperitoneal sarcoma. You may have surgery to remove it, and you may also have radiotherapy to shrink the cancer before surgery. Doctors usually use CT scans to plan treatment.

A study is looking at a different type of MRI scan to help plan treatment for retroperitoneal sarcoma. Researchers want to see if a type of MRI scan called functional MRI (fMRI) gives them more information. These scans can show what is happening inside the cancer, rather than simply its structure.


Doxorubicin and Ifosfamide are the most commonly used chemotherapy drugs for soft tissue sarcoma. Doctors are trying to find better ways to treat sarcoma with chemotherapy.

They are studying other chemoherapy drugs, different combinations of drugs, and giving the drugs in different sequences.

Blood tests to monitor treatment

Cancers are made up of cells that grow and multiply quickly. They do this because they have a number of mistakes called mutations in their DNA. The gene changes are called a genetic signature. If there is a sarcoma in the body, small numbers of cells with the genetic signature can be found in the blood. Each person has a different genetic signature. 

A study is trying to find out if it is possible to use a blood test to monitor people with sarcoma, by looking for the faulty tumour DNA signature. Researchers hope that the test can help them to know how well treatment is working or when a sarcoma has come back.


Research is looking at:

  • radiotherapy before surgery (neo adjuvant) or after surgery (adjuvant) to help stop sarcoma coming back 
  • internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy)
  • improving the dose and the area treated

One study is looking at a type of radiotherapy called intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT). IMRT matches the radiotherapy beams to the shape of the cancer. This reduces the amount of radiotherapy to the healthy tissue surrounding the cancer. The researchers want to find out if it is useful for people with bone and soft tissue sarcoma. 

Targeted cancer drugs

Targeted drugs work by 'targeting' those differences that help a cancer cell to survive and grow. There are different types of targeted drugs, includng cancer growth blockers and drugs that stop blood vessel growth. 

Some targeted drugs are being tested for some types of sarcoma. A group of drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) block the substances that cells use to signal to one another to grow. These include imatinib (Glivec), masitinib, and axinitinib (Inlyta).

Other types of targeted cancer drugs being researched for sarcoma include:

  • pazopanib (Votrient)
  • bevacizumab (Avastin)
  • selumetinib 
  • cediranib

Some studies in the UK and other countries are loking to see if these drugs can control the cancer and stop the soft tissue sarcoma from coming back. Others are comparing drugs against one another to see which works best alone or with surgery.

Last reviewed: 
25 May 2018
  • CHK1 Inhibition in Soft-Tissue Sarcomas: Biological and Clinical Implications

    A Laroche-Clary and others

    Annals of Oncology mdy039

  • Identification of microRNA biomarkers for response of advanced soft tissue sarcomas to eribulin: Translational results of the EORTC 62052 trial

    E Wiemer and others

    European Journal of Cancer, 2017. Volume 75, pages 33-40

  • The use of whole exome sequencing and murine patient derived xenografts as a method of chemosensitivity testing in sarcoma

    N Calvert and others

    Clinical Sarcoma Research. 2018, Volume 8, number 4

  • Current Molecular Targeted Therapies for Bone and Soft Tissue Sarcomas

    K Nakano and others

    International Journal of Molecular Sciences 2018 volume 19, number 3

  • High-risk soft tissue sarcomas treated with perioperative chemotherapy: Improving prognostic classification in a randomised clinical trial

    S Pasquali and others

    European Journal of Cancer 2018 volume 93, pages 28-36