A pleomorphic sarcoma is a type of malignant tumor that usually arises in fat or muscle tissue. Most tumors grow very slowly and do not cause physical symptoms until the cancer starts to spread to other body parts. A pleomorphic sarcoma is most likely to appear in one of the extremities, though it is possible for a tumor to develop in the torso or neck as well. When this type of sarcoma is detected in its early stages, a combination of surgery and radiation treatments are usually effective at eradicating cancer from the body.
There are several different types of pleomorphic sarcoma, classified by the types of tissue they affect and the nature of their onset. The two main groupings are liposarcomas, which are tumors arising in deep fat tissue, and malignant fibrous histiocytomas (MFH), masses that typically develop in skeletal muscle. Both types are most commonly seen in patients over the age of 50, and it is suspected that genetics is the most prominent risk factor for their development.
Liposarcomas are usually found in backs of the thighs or near the groin, though abdominal tumors are also fairly common. Over the course of several years, a mass can grow large enough to put pressure on nerves or the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms may include numbness in a leg, fatigue, abdominal pain, swelling, and nausea. Occasionally, a pleomorphic sarcoma can arise in subuctaneous fat tissue layers that are very close to the skin. Subcutaneous tumors may be visible and palpable as they grow, presenting as soft, painless nodules.
MFH is most likely to appear in an upper leg or arm. It tends to grow very slowly within deep muscle tissue near bones. Rarely, MFH can appear in soft tissue or epithelial linings around the kidneys, bladder, stomach, or heart. Depending on the location of the tumor, it may be possible to feel a hard mass underneath the skin. Symptoms of fatigue, nausea, and weight loss are common with advanced MFH.
Early detection and treatment are key in preventing these sarcomas from becoming serious health problems. A doctor can diagnose a sarcoma by physically examining an unusual mass and taking diagnostic imaging scans of the affected body part. Once a tumor is discovered, a biopsy is usually performed to see whether it is a benign growth or a cancerous mass. After confirming the diagnosis, additional tests are performed to determine if cancer is present anywhere else in the body.
The primary treatment for a pleomorphic sarcoma is surgery, whenever possible. A surgeon can attempt to excise the entire tumor before it starts to spread. If cancer persists after surgery, a series of radiation treatments can be administered. Chemotherapy is occasionally considered, but it has not proven to be as effective as radiation in ablating sarcomas.