Questions About Cancer? 1-800-4-CANCER

Childhood Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treatment (PDQ®)

Patient Version
Last Modified: 08/25/2014

Treatment Option Overview



There are different types of treatment for patients with childhood soft tissue sarcoma.

Different types of treatments are available for patients with childhood soft tissue sarcoma. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment.

Because cancer in children is rare, taking part in a clinical trial should be considered. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Children with childhood soft tissue sarcoma should have their treatment planned by a team of health care providers who are experts in treating cancer in children.

Treatment will be overseen by a pediatric oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating children with cancer. The pediatric oncologist works with other health care providers who are experts in treating children with soft tissue sarcoma and who specialize in certain areas of medicine. These may include a pediatric surgeon with special training in the removal of soft tissue sarcomas. The following specialists may also be included:

Some cancer treatments cause side effects months or years after treatment has ended.

Side effects from cancer treatment that begin during or after treatment and continue for months or years are called late effects. Late effects of cancer treatment may include:

  • Physical problems.
  • Changes in mood, feelings, thinking, learning, or memory.
  • Second cancers (new types of cancer).

Some late effects may be treated or controlled. It is important to talk with your child's doctors about the effects cancer treatment can have on your child. (See the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for more information.)

Seven types of standard treatment are used:

Surgery

Surgery to completely remove the soft tissue sarcoma is done when possible. If the tumor is very large, radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be given first, to make the tumor smaller and decrease the amount of tissue that needs to be removed during surgery.

The following types of surgery may be used:

A second surgery may be needed to:

  • Remove any remaining cancer cells.
  • Check the area around where the tumor was removed for cancer cells and then remove more tissue if needed.

If cancer is in the liver, a liver transplant may be done (the liver is removed and replaced with a healthy one from a donor).

Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given radiation therapy or chemotherapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. In general, radiation therapy is given when the tumor is not completely removed by surgery or is likely to grow and spread quickly.

There are two types of radiation therapy:

  • External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Stereotactic radiation therapy is a type of external radiation therapy that aims radiation directly to a tumor, causing less damage to normal tissue around the tumor. The total dose of radiation is divided into several smaller doses given over several days. This procedure is also called stereotactic external-beam radiation therapy and stereotaxic radiation therapy.
  • Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer.

The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). Combination chemotherapy is the use of more than one anticancer drug. The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Most types of soft tissue sarcoma do not respond to treatment with chemotherapy.

See Drugs Approved for Adult and Childhood Soft Tissue Sarcoma for more information.

Watchful waiting

Watchful waiting is closely monitoring a patient’s condition without giving any treatment until signs or symptoms appear or change. Watchful waiting may be done when:

  • Complete removal of the tumor is not possible.
  • No other treatments are available.
  • The tumor does not place any vital organs in danger.

Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that removes hormones or blocks their action and stops cancer cells from growing. Hormones are substances made by glands in the body and circulated in the bloodstream. Some hormones can cause certain cancers to grow. If tests show that the cancer cells have places where hormones can attach (receptors), drugs, surgery, or radiation therapy is used to reduce the production of hormones or block them from working. Antiestrogens (drugs that block estrogen) may be used to treat childhood soft tissue sarcoma.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are drugs (such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen) that are commonly used to decrease fever, swelling, pain, and redness. In the treatment of soft tissue sarcomas, an NSAID called sulindac may be used to help block the growth of cancer cells.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to attack cancer cells. Targeted therapies usually cause less harm to normal cells than chemotherapy or radiation do.

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) are a type of targeted therapy that blocks signals needed for tumors to grow:

Other types of targeted therapy are being studied in clinical trials, including the following:

  • Pazopanib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor being studied in the treatment of recurrent or progressive soft tissue sarcoma.
  • mTOR inhibitors are a type of targeted therapy that stops the protein that helps cells divide and survive. mTor inhibitors are being studied to treat perivascular epithelioid cell tumors (PEComas) and epithelioid hemangioendothelioma. Sirolimus is a type of mTOR inhibitor therapy.
  • Angiogenesis inhibitors are a type of targeted therapy that prevent the growth of new blood vessels needed for tumors to grow. Angiogenesis inhibitors are being studied to treat alveolar soft part sarcoma and blood vessel tumors.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your child's condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.