Risk Factors for Soft Tissue Sarcoma: What Affects Your Odds

Find out whether you could be at risk for soft tissue sarcoma.

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Soft tissue sarcoma is not common, and in most cases the cause of the cancer is unknown. Still, there are certain risk factors to be aware of and warning signs of soft tissue sarcoma to watch out for.

Soft tissue sarcoma is a type of cancer that forms from soft tissues. This includes your muscles, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels. Soft tissues connect and support other tissues in the body.

What are the risk factors for soft tissue sarcoma?

You’ve already been through cancer treatment.

Soft tissue sarcomas may develop in patients who’ve received radiation therapy in the past. They may have received radiation for other cancers, often in the area of the body that needed radiation. “For instance, following breast cancer treatment, where we treat the whole breast after a lumpectomy, women can develop a secondary, radiation-related cancer 7 to 10 years after treatment,” says Richard Bakst, MD, a Radiation Oncologist at The Mount Sinai Hospital. Luckily, this is rare.

You were born with certain genetic conditions.

Family cancer syndromes are disorders that stem from gene defects. You generally inherit these types of gene defects from a parent. As a result of these, you may have a higher risk of certain cancers, including soft tissue sarcomas. Some examples include:

  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • Neurofibromatosis
  • Gardner syndrome
  • Retinoblastoma
  • Werner syndrome
  • Gorlin syndrome
  • Tuberous sclerosis.

“Those are genetic syndromes [are] typically diagnosed at a young age,” says Dr. Bakst. "Patients with those genetic syndromes would likely be screened for a number of different cancers, including soft tissue sarcoma."

You’ve had exposure to certain chemicals.

High exposure to dioxin or herbicides that contain phenoxyacetic acid may be a risk factor for soft tissue sarcoma. Studies have linked vinyl chloride (a chemical used in making plastics) and arsenic to liver sarcoma. However, researchers have not been able to prove that they cause soft tissue sarcoma.

“It’s important to keep in mind that soft tissue sarcomas are relatively rare, and that most things you notice on your body are not soft tissue sarcoma,” says Dr. Bakst. “Just be vigilant of changes in your body, and present to a primary care doctor if you are concerned about anything for further workup.”