Soft Tissue Sarcomas

Dr. Biermann serves as Director of the Musculoskeletal Oncology Program at the University of Michigan. “Sarcoma" is a term used to describe a whole family of cancers that arise in the body's connective tissues, which include fat, muscle, blood vessels, deep skin tissues, nerves, bones, and cartilage.  The U-M Multidisciplinary Sarcoma Center is the only federally funded and comprehensive sarcoma center in the state of Michigan, where patients receive integrated care from physicians in all sarcoma related disciplines.

Symptoms - an enlarging mass may or may not be painful. Absence of pain in a soft tissue mass does not mean it is not cancer.

Diagnosis - your doctor will perform a physical exam. Most likely an MRI with gadolinium will be done in order to help determine the size and location of the tumor. If sarcoma is suspected, the patient should be evaluated at a Sarcoma center. A chest CT will usually be performed, as sarcoma can spread to the lungs. Certain types of sarcoma can spread to the abdomen and spine – CT scans of those areas may be required.

Biopsy - needle biopsy usually done in the doctor’s office, or can be image guided and performed in Radiology. An open biopsy is generally done in the operating room with a small incision. How the biopsy is done may affect how the cancer can be taken out later, and all experts agree this is best done at a Sarcoma center by an experienced surgeon.

Types of sarcoma- there are more than 50 types of sarcoma:

    • Rhabdomyosarcoma-most common in children occurs in skeletal muscle
    • Leiomyosarcoma- occurs in smooth muscle such as uterus, lining of blood vessels
    • Liposarcoma- occurs in fatty tissue
    • Angiosarcoma- occurs in blood vessels


Low grade - less chance of metastasis (spread), usually treated surgically and sometimes with radiation therapy

High grade - more likely to metastasize; generally treated with combination of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy