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Soft Tissue Sarcoma: Risk Factors

What is a risk factor?

A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. Risk factors for a certain type of cancer might include smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer.

Things you should know about risk factors for cancer:

  • Risk factors can increase a person's risk, but they do not necessarily cause the disease.

  • Some people with risk factors never develop cancer. Other people can develop cancer and have few or no risk factors.

  • Some risk factors are very well known. But there is ongoing research about risk factors for many types of cancer.

Some risk factors, such as family history, may not be in your control. But others may be things you can change. Knowing the risk factors can help you make choices that might lower your risk. For example, if an unhealthy diet is a risk factor, you may choose to eat healthy foods. If excess weight is a risk factor, you may decide to try to lose weight.

Who is at risk for soft tissue sarcoma?

Anyone can get soft tissue sarcoma. Most people who get soft tissue sarcomas don’t have any known risk factors. But there are some factors that can increase your risk for this cancer. These can include the following:

  • Exposure to radiation. People who have had radiation to treat other cancers, such as breast or cervical cancer, have a slightly higher risk of soft tissue sarcoma.

  • Certain inherited syndromes. People who inherit certain genetic syndromes from a parent are more likely to get soft tissue sarcomas. These include neurofibromatosis type 1, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, hereditary retinoblastoma, Werner syndrome, Gardner syndrome, Gorlin syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis.

  • Exposure to certain other chemicals (especially in the workplace). Exposure to high levels of certain chemicals in the workplace, such as dioxin and phenoxy herbicides, may increase the risk of soft tissue sarcomas.

  • Lymph system damage (lymphedema). People who have chronic lymphedema (where fluid collects in the tissue and causes swelling) due to radiation to lymph nodes or surgical removal of lymph nodes have a slightly higher risk of soft tissue sarcoma.

What are your risk factors?

Because most people who get soft tissue sarcoma don’t have any risk factors, healthcare providers have little advice on how to prevent this cancer. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re worried about your risk.

When possible, you should avoid these risk factors:

  • Avoid exposure to radiation. This may not be possible for people who need radiation to treat cancer.

  • Avoid exposure to certain chemicals, especially herbicides and dioxin.

If you or anyone in your family has certain conditions or inherited syndromes listed above, you may be at higher risk of this type of cancer. These can include neurofibromatosis type 1, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and hereditary retinoblastoma. Ask your healthcare provider if you should be tested for inherited genes that might increase your risk of soft tissue sarcoma.

There are no widely suggested tests to screen for sarcoma before it causes symptoms. You have a better chance of surviving soft tissue sarcoma if it’s found and treated early. For this reason, it’s important to tell your healthcare provider right away if you have any lumps or swelling on your body. This is especially true if the lump is causing pain, or if it doesn’t go away or is getting larger. Even though most lumps aren’t sarcomas, it’s important to have it checked. Your healthcare provider may watch the lump or have tests done.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Levin, Mark, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2016
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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