Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treatment

At Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center, our approach to a soft tissue sarcoma diagnosis and treatment provides better outcomes and gives you access to the most advanced treatment, surgical techniques and clinical trials. The sarcoma program combines the expertise of physicians, nurses and experienced clinical and supportive professionals to provide a team approach to sarcoma treatment.

Our program includes doctors from all the fields necessary to properly treat and diagnose soft tissue sarcoma, including specialists in:

  • Orthopaedic oncology
  • Surgical oncology
  • Medical oncology
  • Radiation oncology
  • Diagnostic radiology
  • Pathology
  • Physical therapy

Following the diagnosis and staging of soft tissue sarcoma, cancer specialists at Penn Medicine develop a treatment plan tailored to your particular needs. Our treatment options for soft tissue sarcomas include:

Chemotherapy and Targeted Therapies for Soft Tissue Sarcomas

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells or stop their growth. Chemotherapy may be given through a pill, an IV, or an injection.

Chemotherapy for soft tissue sarcomas may be used before surgery, after surgery or in conjunction with other therapies.

Targeted therapies are newer types of therapy designed to kill cancer cells without harming other, healthy cells and tissue. At Penn Medicine, we are pioneers in the development and use of targeted therapies and are backed by robust programs to further research in the area of soft tissue sarcoma treatment.

Clinical Trials for Soft Tissue Sarcomas

Today, more and more people are surviving cancer. Clinical trials benefit patients with access to breakthrough therapies and treatments. These new advances in cancer treatment are occurring every day at Penn Medicine, giving patients hope that even greater discoveries lie ahead.

Through clinical trials:

  • Diagnosing cancer has become more precise.
  • Radiation and surgical techniques have advanced.
  • Medications are more successful.
  • Combinations of medical, surgical and radiation therapy are improving treatment effectiveness and enhancing outcomes.
  • Strategies to address the late effects of cancer and its treatment are improving quality of life.

Radiation for Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. A radiation therapy schedule usually consists of a specific number of treatments given over an extended period of time.

Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

Using 3-D computed tomography (CT) images of the patient along with computerized dose calculations, IMRT allows for the radiation dose to conform more precisely to the three-dimensional shape of the tumor by controlling — or modulating — the intensity of the radiation beam. The therapy allows higher radiation doses to be delivered to regions within the tumor while minimizing the dose to the surrounding area.

Proton Therapy

At the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, we offer the largest and most advanced facility in the world for this precise form of cancer radiation. You will have access to one of the most sophisticated weapons against cancer, seamlessly integrated with the full range of oncology services available at the Abramson Cancer Center. Proton therapy is external beam radiotherapy in which protons are directed at a tumor.

The radiation dose that is given through protons is very precise and limits the exposure of normal tissues. This allows the radiation dose delivered to the tumor to be increased beyond conventional radiation. The result is a better chance for curing cancer with fewer harmful side effects.

Proton therapy, like all forms of radiation therapy, works by aiming the energized particles, in this case protons, onto the target tumor. The particles damage the DNA of cells, ultimately causing their death. Unlike X-rays, protons can be manipulated to release most of their energy only when they reach their target. With more energy reaching the cancerous cells, more damage is administered by each burst of radiation.

Surgery for Soft Tissue Sarcomas

Soft tissue sarcomas are rare tumors — even when considering the more than 50 histologic subtypes of soft tissue sarcomas, they still are considered rare. However, our team of specialists has significant experience and expertise in treating soft tissue sarcomas.

Surgery for soft tissue sarcomas is generally the mainstay of treatment and is performed whenever possible. Chemotherapy or radiation is sometimes given before surgery in order to shrink your tumor before your procedure or improve the likelihood that abnormal tissues will not spread beyond your tumor’s margin.

At Penn Medicine, we offer several surgical options for treating soft tissue sarcomas. We will work with you to determine which procedure is best for you.

Radical Resection

Radical resection is a common treatment for soft tissue sarcomas. The procedure removes the tumor, as well as some healthy tissue around it, called the margin.

Limb-Sparing Surgery (Limb Salvage)

Limb-sparing surgery, also called limb salvage, for patients with soft tissue sarcomas aims to remove all of the tumor and tissue while maintaining appearance or function of the limb.

A plastic surgeon will work in tandem with a surgical oncologist to move healthy tissue into the area where the tumor was located to improve healing and appearance of your limb.

Lymph Node Dissection (Lymphadenectomy)

We perform lymph node dissection only if your sarcoma has spread. In this procedure, your surgeon removes one or more groups of affected lymph nodes from your body in the area of your tumor. The removed lymph nodes are then examined for cancer cells.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy is a tool for staging specific soft tissue sarcomas, such as rhabdomyosarcoma, synovial sarcoma, epithelioid sarcoma and clear cell sarcoma.


Amputation is surgery to remove part or all of a limb and is done very sparingly to treat soft tissue sarcomas.

Amputation may be the best option if your tumor is extensive and has spread into important nerves, blood vessels or muscles. The procedure might also be necessary if there is a recurrence of cancer in a limb on which limb-sparing surgery was previously performed.

At Penn Medicine, we seek to avoid amputation whenever possible. However, if you need all or part of your limb removed, we offer extensive follow-up care and amputee services to help you keep your independence and restore your physical function.

Other Treatments for Soft Tissue Sarcomas

In addition to standard treatments and clinical trials, you may wish to add additional therapies and treatments such as massage therapy, acupuncture and art therapy. These therapies do not have curative intent and are designed to complement standard treatments, not take their place.

Integrative Oncology Services

At Penn, our integrative oncology services can supplement traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. While conventional medicine plays a critical role in eradicating cancer, integrative oncology services offer you ways to enhance the quality of your life, minimize or reduce the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment, and promote healing and recovery.

Our cancer specialists are knowledgeable and supportive of complementary cancer treatments. Our cancer team works with you and your family to integrate these supportive programs into the overall care plan, while ensuring your health and safety.

The Abramson Cancer Center's range of integrative supportive services is designed to help you cope with the cancer experience and improve your overall sense of well-being.

Services include:

Joan Karnell Supportive Services at Pennsylvania Hospital offers an extensive variety of supportive care programs for patients and families, from diagnosis through survivorship. These programs are available at no cost to the patients treated at Pennsylvania Hospital, and some are open to patients treated elsewhere. These services include social work counseling, nutrition counseling, psychological counseling and spiritual counseling.

The Cancer Appetite and Rehabilitation Clinic focuses on patients with loss of appetite and weight.

The Supportive Oncology Clinic helps to manage cancer-related symptoms. Integrative support programs include:

Palliative care provides medical and non-medical interventions to ease the symptoms of cancer and its treatment. Palliative care includes physical, emotional and spiritual care that can enhance the quality of life for cancer patients. Palliative care can be used to complement traditional cancer therapies or can be used when curative therapies are no longer an option to treat symptoms and improve quality of life.

Palliative care is an approach to patient care that can be integrated with curative therapies at any point from diagnosis to survivorship or end-of-life care. Palliative care services include palliative chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery, as well as psychological counseling, art therapy and support groups for patients and families.

Penn Home Care and Hospice Services

Penn Medicine offers a full range of “at home” health care services, including specialized therapies and medications, for patients with cancer and cancer-related conditions.