Research in soft tissue sarcoma

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We are always learning more about cancer. Researchers and healthcare professionals use what they learn from research studies to develop better ways to treat soft tissue sarcoma. The following is a selection of research showing promise for treating soft tissue sarcoma.

We've included information from the following sources. Each item has an identity number that links to a brief overview (sometimes called an abstract).

  • PubMed, US National Library of Medicine (PMID)
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO)
  • Canadian Cancer Trials and (NCT)

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy

Researchers are looking for the best ways to treat soft tissue sarcoma using chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Chemoradiation is treatment that gives chemotherapy with radiation therapy during the same time period. A clinical trial is trying to find out if giving a combination of treatments (including chemoradiation) before surgery can improve prognosis and survival for people with soft tissue sarcoma. Researchers are comparing the combination of treatments to radiation alone. They are dividing participants into the following groups to compare the effectiveness of the different treatments (, NCT 02180867):

  • Group 1 gets chemoradiation and pazopanib (Votrient).
  • Group 2 gets chemoradiation.
  • Group 3 gets radiation therapy and pazopanib.
  • Group 4 gets radiation therapy alone.

Chemotherapy drugs and combinations that researchers are studying for soft tissue sarcoma include:

  • 13-deoxy, 5-iminodoxorubicin (GPX-150) (Cancer Medicine, PMID 31016866)
  • trabectedin (Yondelis) compared to dacarbazine (Gynecologic Oncology, PMID 28651804; Journal of Clinical Oncology, PMID 26371143)
  • pegylated liposomal doxorubicin (Caelyx) and carboplatin (International Journal of Gynecological Cancer, PMID 27654266)
  • gemcitabine, vincristine and cisplatin (Medicine, PMID 26512574)

Chemotherapy tailored to the specific type of soft tissue sarcoma may improve survival compared to standard chemotherapy. Results from a phase 3 clinical trial did not show that specific chemotherapy drugs for the type of soft tissue sarcoma were more effective than standard chemotherapy with epirubicin and ifosfamide (Ifex) in people with high-risk soft tissue sarcoma (The Lancet Oncology, PMID 28499583;, NCT 01710176). Research continues to look for chemotherapy that works best for each type of soft tissue sarcoma.

Radiation therapy before surgery may be an effective treatment for soft tissue sarcoma in the back of the abdomen (called retroperitoneal soft tissue sarcoma) that has not spread to other parts of the body. Researchers are doing a phase 3 clinical trial to find out if having radiation before surgery is a better treatment than only having surgery (Canadian Cancer Trials, NCT 01344018).

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy uses drugs to target specific molecules (such as proteins) on cancer cells or inside them. These molecules help send signals that tell cells to grow or divide. By targeting these molecules, the drugs stop the growth and spread of cancer cells and limit harm to normal cells.

Researchers are studying different targeted therapy drugs to see how well they work to treat different types of soft tissue sarcoma, especially when it has spread to other parts of the body (advanced or metastatic soft tissue sarcoma). Researchers often study targeted therapy drugs in combination with chemotherapy or after chemotherapy. Some of the targeted therapy drugs that researchers are studying include:


Immunotherapy helps to strengthen or restore the immune system's ability to fight cancer. Researchers are looking at a type of immunotherapy called an immune checkpoint inhibitor. The immune system normally stops itself from attacking normal cells in the body by using specific proteins called checkpoints, which are made by some immune system cells. Cancer cells sometimes use these checkpoints to avoid being attacked by the immune system. Immune checkpoint inhibitors block the checkpoint proteins so immune system cells (called T cells) can attack and kill the cancer cells.

Immune checkpoint inhibitors showing promise in treating soft tissue sarcoma include the following (ASCO, Abstract 11009; BMC Cancer, PMID 30249211; The Lancet Oncology, PMID 29370992):

  • pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
  • nivolumab (Opdivo)
  • ipilimumab (Yervoy)

Learn more about cancer research

Researchers continue to try to find out more about cancer. Clinical trials are research studies that test new ways to treat cancer. They also look at ways to prevent, find and manage cancer.

Clinical trials provide information about the safety and effectiveness of new approaches to see if they should become widely available. Most of the standard treatments for cancer were first shown to be effective through clinical trials.

Find out more about clinical trials.

Expert review and references

  • Martin E. Blackstein, MD, PhD
  • Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. Canadian Cancer Trials. Canadian Partnership Against Cancer;
  • US National Institutes of Health.