What is soft tissue sarcoma?

Soft tissue sarcoma is a cancerous (malignant) tumour that starts in the cells of the body’s soft tissues. A cancerous tumour is a group of cancer cells that can grow into nearby tissue and destroy it. The tumour can also spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

There are many types of soft tissue throughout the body, including fat, muscle, fibrous tissue, blood vessels, lymph vessels and nerves. Soft tissues surround, support and connect organs and other tissues in the body.

Cells in soft tissues sometimes change and no longer grow or behave normally. These changes may lead to non-cancerous (benign) tumours such as lipomas and hemangiomas.

But in some cases, changes to soft tissue cells can cause a type of cancer called soft tissue sarcoma. There are many different types of soft tissue sarcoma. They are named based on where the cancer started. Some of the more common types are liposarcoma, myxofibrosarcoma and leiomyosarcoma.

Soft tissue sarcomas can develop anywhere in the body. More than half develop in an arm or leg. Others usually develop in the abdomen, chest or head and neck area.

Sarcomas can also develop in the bone, such as chondrosarcoma and osteosarcoma. They are very different than soft tissue sarcomas. Find more about bone cancer.

Diagram of the soft tissues of the body
Diagram of the soft tissues of the body

Expert review and references

The soft tissues of the body

Learn about the anatomy and physiology of the soft tissue, including the structure and function of the soft tissue.

Types of soft tissue sarcoma

Soft tissue sarcoma is not a common type of cancer. There are over 50 different types. Learn about types of soft tissue sarcoma.

Non-cancerous soft tissue tumours

Learn about non-cancerous soft tissue tumours – growths that do not spread to other parts of the body and are not usually life-threatening.