Soft tissue sarcoma (STS) is a form of cancer that can affect adults and children. However, it is rare, affecting only about 1% of the population. It is possible to cure STS with early detection and medical treatment such as surgery.

STS is a term that broadly describes cancers that start in the soft tissue structures of the body, such as tendons, muscles, lymph vessels and nodes, and blood vessels.

While they can develop in any part of the body, they occur more in the legs, arms, abdomen, and chest.

Researchers have identified more than 50 different types of soft tissue sarcomas, including liposarcoma, adult fibrosarcoma, and clear cell sarcoma. However, they are not common.

In this article, we will discuss the prevalence of STS, who it affects, risk factors, survival rates, and symptoms.

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STS is rare, accounting for about 1% of cancers in adults and about 15% of tumors in children.

A cancer statistics report estimated there were approximately 13,500 new cases of STS in the United States in 2019. This figure is not largely different from the recently estimated number of cases for 2023.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS)’s most recent estimate, about 13,400 people will receive a new diagnosis of STS in the U.S. in 2023 — about 6,000 females and 7,400 males.

This figure includes adults and children. It also estimates that around 5,140 people will die of STS in 2023.

Reports on the racial and ethnic disparities in the incidence of STS vary. For instance, an older 2013 study showed the incidence of soft tissue sarcomas combined was about 60% higher in Black people than white people, and slightly higher among Hispanic people than white people.

However, in a more recent 2021 study, 64% of people with STS were non-Hispanic white, 12% were non-Hispanic Black, and 9% were of Hispanic ethnicity. This suggests that genetic variation that has a link to ancestry may also play a role in sarcoma development.

The National Organization for Rare Disorders has categorized STS as a rare disorder. Determining the true frequency of this condition in the general population may be difficult because doctors may misdiagnose or underdiagnose it.

Research suggests STS affects males more than females, although the ratios vary depending on the type.

Other people at higher risk include:

  • middle-aged and older adults
  • people who have previously had radiotherapy
  • people with certain genetic conditions, such as retinoblastoma and neurofibromatosis type 1
  • people who have had exposure to chemicals such as dioxins and vinyl chloride

Risk factors for soft tissue sarcoma include:

Soft tissue sarcomas are often asymptomatic in the early stages but may cause symptoms as they spread and get bigger.

The symptoms also vary depending on the type and where they started. They may include:

The survival rate for STS depends on whether the cancer is localized or has spread to other parts of the body.

According to the ACS, the 5-year survival rate for localized soft tissue sarcoma is 81%. This means people with the cancer — when it has not spread — have an 81% likelihood of living for up to 5 years after diagnosis.

For people with cancer that has spread to nearby structures and distant parts of the body, the 5-year survival rates are 56% and 15%, respectively.

Race and ethnicity are also factors to consider when discussing survival rates. An older 2015 study found that African Americans with the condition were more likely not to survive.

The study indicated that the lower survival rate for this race could be because these people often have tumors of larger size and do not receive timely and frequent appropriate care.

Learn about racism and racial disparities in healthcare here.

Here are answers to some common questions people ask about STS.

What percentage of soft tissue tumors are cancerous?

Most soft tissue tumors are benign and not malignant.

The ratio of benign soft tissue tumors to malignant ones is about 150 to 1. That means more than 99% of soft tissue tumors are benign, while fewer than 1% are cancerous.

Where is the most common site of soft tissue sarcoma?

Soft tissue sarcomas can occur in any part of the body, often depending on the type.

For instance, liposarcomas and leiomyosarcomas, which are among the most common types of STS, commonly occur in the abdomen and legs, respectively.

Generally, sarcomas most commonly develop in the torso, the hands and legs, the head and neck, and the tissue that lines the abdominal wall.

STS is a rare type of cancer that affects the tissues that support, connect, and surround body organs and structures.

These sarcomas can develop in any part of the body but tend to occur more commonly in the hands, legs, and abdomen.

Studies have shown a low prevalence of this condition. However, it is possible that the prevalence rates are inaccurate, given the high chance of misdiagnosis and underdiagnosis.

It is often best to seek medical attention if a person notices any atypical body symptoms because early detection of cancer makes it possible for healthcare professionals to start treatment on time.