Soft Tissue Tumors: Malignant and Benign Tumors
Soft tissue tumors can occur and affect any part of the body, including the abdomen, legs, and arms. They often vary in nature and how they appear. While some are minor and less intensive, others tend to be aggressive. As the tumor invades the surrounding tissues, it becomes more and more difficult to be removed completely. In the end, this increases the possibility of the tumors recurring.
Basically, soft tissues refer to the tissues that support, surround, and link the internal bones and organs. It consists of the muscles, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels and lymph, skin, fat, synovial membranes, and fibrous tissue.
Type of Soft Tissue Tumors
There are several types of soft tissue tumors. They include;
- Soft tissue sarcomas
- Benign lipoma
- Desmoids tumors
- Pigmented villonodular synovitis
- Synovial cell sarcoma
- Malignant fibrous histiocytoma
- Clear cell sarcoma
Symptoms of Soft Tissue Tumors
During the early stages, soft tissue tumors are not usually associated with any signs and symptoms. However, as the tumor advances, it may result in;
- Swelling or a noticeable lump, especially if the tumor is near the surface
- Pain if the tumors develop within the muscles or nerves
Causes of Soft Tissue Tumors
The actual causes of soft tissue tumors are not clear. However, the condition can arise if the cells develop mutation errors in the DNA. Such errors usually trigger the cells to grow and multiply out of control.
Eventually, the increased number of accumulated cells develops into a tumor that grows with time and invades the surrounding structures. These cells can also spread to various parts of the body if not diagnosed and treated on time.
The cells that acquire a genetic mutation error determine the type of soft tissue tumor you have. While some soft tissue tumors start in the lining of the blood vessels, others develop in the fat cells.
Risk Factors of Soft Tissue Tumors
Some of the factors that can increase the risks of soft tissue tumor include;
Exposure to certain chemicals: Exposure to toxic chemicals such as dioxin, herbicides, and arsenic can increase the risks of developing soft tissue tumors.
Inheritable syndromes: Sometimes, children inherit the risks of soft tissue tumors from their parents. This increases the risks of developing various types of hereditary soft tissue tumors.
Radiation exposure: An exposure to a previous radiation form of treatment against cancers can increase the chances of acquiring soft tissue tumors.
Diagnosing Soft Tissue Tumors
If you experience signs and symptoms that might indicate soft tissue tumors, your doctor can conduct several diagnostic tests such as;
Physical examination involves asking the patient about the symptoms they are currently experiencing. It can include when the symptoms began and the duration they have experienced them. The doctor can also inquire about the medical history and family background to determine possible risk factors.
Doctors usually conduct imaging tests for various reasons, including;
- To check and analyze the suspicious part that might be cancerous
- To determine the extent the tumor has advanced and spread
- To determine if a certain treatment is effective
Examples of imaging tests include;
X-ray uses radiation energy to produce images of the organs and structures of the inner parts of the body. It enables the doctors to check if the tumor has spread to other body parts, including the lungs.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
This imaging test uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to take and generate images of the body. MRI is used to diagnose soft tissue tumors such as sarcoma. Furthermore, this technique shows the extent of the condition, the location of the tumor, how large or small it is, and the associated tissue.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
This technique combines various x-ray images to generate detailed cross-sectional pictures of the body. Doctors often opt for this diagnostic test if they suspect a tumor in the chest, belly, or back side of the abdomen (retroperitoneum). CT scan is also recommended if the soft tissue tumor has spread to the liver, lungs, and various body organs.
At times, doctors can use CT scans to guide and direct the biopsy needle into the tumor located in the abdomen or the chest. This procedure is referred to as the CT-guided needle biopsy.
Ultrasound is an imaging procedure that uses sound waves and echoes to create images of certain body parts. The method includes a small tool known as the transducer. It transmits signal waves and collects the echoes when they bounce off from the organs. After that, computer technology is used to convert the echoes into pictures viewed on the screen.
Sometimes, doctors can perform an ultrasound before the biopsy to determine if the lump or the tumor is a cyst. This is to check if it’s solid and most likely to be a tumor or if it has fluids and likely to be benign. However, ultrasound is not necessary if tests such as MRI and CT have been performed.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
This technique uses a certain radioactive sugar substance that is normally placed into the blood. Cancers normally use sugar or glucose at a high rate as compared to the normal tissues. Due to this, radioactivity accumulates in the cancerous areas. A scanner is then used to identify the radioactive deposits.
Doctors usually recommend a PET scan, especially when they suspect an advanced tumor that has spread to unknown areas. They can also use this technique in place of x-rays or with a CT scan. This is because it scans the entire body.
Biopsy and tissue testing procedures:
Whereas the imaging tests diagnose the soft tissue tumors, a biopsy might be necessary to confirm the diagnosis results. It also helps determine the type and extent of the condition.
A biopsy is necessary to determine if the suspicious growth is a tumor and not a different type of benign condition. A biopsy involves removing a small sample of the tumor and analyzing it using a microscope or other laboratory tests.
There are several types of biopsy that doctors can use to diagnose soft tissue tumors. The appropriate method to use often depends on the location and the size of the tumor. However, the most common types include the core needle biopsy or fine-needle aspiration.
- Tissue testing
This involves conducting lab tests on the sample to determine certain proteins, genes, and other different factors associated with the tumor. Tissue testing results enable the doctor to choose a suitable treatment option.
The treatment options for soft tissue tumors usually vary depending on the type, size, and location of the tumor. However, doctors can recommend treatment options such as;
A surgical procedure is the most common treatment alternative for soft tissue tumors. It involves cutting open the exact location and taking out the tumor, including the healthy surrounding tissues.
In a situation where the soft tissue tumors affect the legs and arms, doctors can recommend chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This helps shrink the tumor and prevent it from growing and spreading to other parts. It can also be used in order to avoid amputation.
This is a drug treatment that involves the use of certain chemicals to destroy the tumor cells. Doctors can administer chemotherapy in the form of pills or intravenously through the vein. However, certain types of soft tissue tumors respond effectively to chemotherapy treatment as compared to others. As such, the doctor can administer this treatment based on the type of the condition.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered beams of energy to treat tumors. The common ways of administering radiation therapy include;
- Before the surgical procedure to help shrink cancer and make it easier to take out
- During the surgery to facilitate direct administration of high doses of radiation into the target regions but sparing the surrounding tissues
- After the operation to destroy any remaining cancerous cells.
Immunotherapy is also referred to as biologic therapy. It’s a medication to help boost the body's immune system and stimulate it to fight cancer. Immunotherapy typically uses certain materials produced in the body or made in the lab. These materials enhance, target, and restore the normal function of the defense system.
Targeted drug treatment:
Certain types of soft tumor tissues have unique characteristics within the cells that can be destroyed through targeted drug options. As compared to other treatment forms, targeted drug treatment is more effective and less toxic.
Soft tissue tumors are conditions that mainly develop within or between the muscles, blood vessels, nerves, and ligaments. It affects people in various ways depending on factors like the type, location, and the extent or stage. While soft tissue tumors are chronic and life-threatening, early diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent more complications.
CloudHospital specializes in providing comprehensive care and treatment to patients with soft tissue sarcoma and other tumors. It works with a number of skilled medical experts to ensure effective diagnosis and treatment that will translate to a successful recovery.