Treatment for soft tissue sarcomas may be either local or systemic. Local treatments remove, destroy, or control the cancer cells in one certain area. Surgery and radiation therapy are local treatments. Systemic treatments are used to destroy or control cancer cells throughout the whole body. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment. You may have just 1 treatment or a combination of treatments.
Each type of treatment has a different goal:
Surgery. Surgery is the usual treatment for soft tissue sarcomas. The goal of surgery is to remove the whole tumor or as much of it as possible. At the same time, the goal is to preserve as much as possible of the affected body part in order to maintain normal function. The size of the tumor generally determines whether surgery alone will be used for treatment. Tumors larger than a certain size will most likely also be treated with radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy, either before or after surgery.
Radiation therapy. Also called radiotherapy, the goal of this treatment is to kill cancer cells using powerful energy from radiation beams or other sources. This treatment may be used to shrink a tumor before surgery or to kill cancer cells that may remain after surgery. Radiation therapy may be used before, during, and/or after surgery.
Chemotherapy. The goal of this treatment is to use drugs to shrink and destroy sarcoma cells. Usually, doctors inject chemotherapy drugs into the body through a vein. The blood then carries the drugs throughout the body, killing cancer cells. Less often, doctors inject drugs right into the blood vessels around the tumor. That method is not yet a standard therapy. As mentioned above, chemotherapy may be given before or after surgery. In the case of metastatic disease (cancer has spread into other parts of the body), chemotherapy may be used alone for treatment.
Doctors are always working on new ways to treat soft tissue sarcoma. They test these methods in clinical trials. Before beginning treatment, ask your doctor whether you should join any clinical trials.