Research into soft tissue sarcoma

Researchers around the world are looking at the treatment of soft tissue sarcoma.

Go to Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials database if you are looking for a trial for soft tissue sarcoma in the UK. You need to talk to your specialist if there are any trials that you think you might be able to take part in.

Research and clinical trials

All cancer treatments must be fully researched before they can be used for everyone. This is so we can be sure that:

  • they work
  • they work better than the treatments already available
  • they are safe

It can be more difficult to do research into rare cancers such as soft tissue sarcoma because there are fewer people to take part in them. So, compared to more common cancers there are relatively few trials.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy

Researchers are looking at how to improve treatment for people with rhabdomyosarcoma. Chemotherapy Open a glossary item, surgery Open a glossary item and radiotherapy Open a glossary item are the main treatments for rhabdomyosarcoma. You usually have a combination of these.

A trial is looking at whether changes to chemotherapy and radiotherapy can improve treatment outcomes.

The trial is looking at:

  • new combinations of chemotherapy as initial treatment (induction)
  • the timing, dose and extent of radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy to keep the cancer under control after initial chemotherapy. This is called maintenance treatment.

The trial aims to better the treatment outcomes and quality of life of people with rhabdomyosarcoma.

A new drug with radiotherapy

A phase 1 trial Open a glossary item is looking at a new drug with radiotherapy to treat advanced soft tissue sarcoma. Advanced sarcoma means the cancer has spread to lymph nodes. Or it has spread to other parts of the body with or without cancer cells in the lymph nodes.

The trial is looking at how safe it is to have the new drug with radiotherapy. It is also looking at how well people with advanced disease is tolerating it.


During some operations for soft tissue sarcoma, your surgeon might need to remove a large area of tissue from your leg. This is to ensure that no cancer cells are left behind. Removing a large area of tissue might affect how well you can use your leg.

A study is looking at how well you can use your leg after a procedure called functional muscle transfer. This surgery aims to help improve the way you can use your leg.

At the moment there are no studies to show how well people can use their leg after this type of surgery. So, the results will be compared against people who did not have the functional muscle transfer procedure.

Targeted therapy

Gastrointestinal stromal tumour (GIST)

Gastrointestinal stromal tumour (GIST) is a type of sarcoma. It is usually treated with surgery and then a targeted therapy (biological therapy). This is to try to stop the cancer from coming back.

A targeted cancer drug often used is imatinib (Glivec). It works by blocking a protein called tyrosine kinase that tells cells to divide and grow. Blocking this protein might stop cancer cells from coming back.      

You usually take imatinib for 3 years after surgery and then have regular follow ups.

A trial is looking at whether taking imatinib for 5 years is better at stopping GIST from coming back. 

People in this trial might have 1 of the following:

  • imatinib for 3 years and regular follow up (standard treatment Open a glossary item)
  • imatinib for 5 years and regular follow up (extended treatment)

Synovial sarcoma

Another trial is looking at a targeted drug called ramucirumab with chemotherapy. It is for people with a type of sarcoma called synovial sarcoma. Researchers are looking at how safe the drug is and how well it works with chemotherapy.

It is for synovial sarcoma that:

  • has come back
  • does not respond to treatment

Other treatments

Chemotherapy is used in some situations to treat sarcoma. But chemotherapy doesn’t always work. So, doctors are looking for new ways to treat a cancer that continues to grow or comes back after treatment. This is called refractory or relapsed cancer.

A trial is looking at a drug called pegylated recombinant human arginase (BCT-100). It reduces the amount of arginine available in cells.

Arginine is a protein (an amino acid). It is important for cells to grow and survive. Normal, healthy cells can make arginine using a protein (an enzyme) that is often missing in cancer cells. If the amount of arginine available is reduced, it starves the cancer cells and stops them from growing.

Healthy cells are able to survive much better than cancer cells when there is less arginine available. This is partly because they can make it. So, by reducing the amount of arginine available the cancer might stop growing.

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