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What is a Soft Tissue Mass?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A soft tissue mass, also known as a soft tissue tumor or sarcoma, is a malignant growth that forms in the connective, soft tissues of the body, such as the muscles, tendons, and blood vessels. Considered a rare condition, there are a variety of masses which may be diagnosed in any part of the body. Despite the diversity associated with soft tissue tumor development, all diagnoses carry similar symptoms and treatment options. Treatment for this condition is dependent on the individual and the type, location, and extent of his or her cancer.

In most cases there is no known, definitive cause for the development of a soft tissue mass, although there are some exceptions. A Kaposi sarcoma is a mass resulting from the human herpes virus 8 (HHV8) that is commonly found in individuals with a compromised, or defective, immune system. In some instances, the origin of the soft tissue sarcoma may be genetic. Hereditary conditions which may contribute to soft tissue mass development include Garner syndrome, neurofibromatosis, and inherited retinoblastoma. Additional causal factors may include exposure to chemicals, such as herbicides and vinyl chloride, and radiological material as utilized in radiation therapy.

Individuals with a soft tissue mass may be asymptomatic during the tumor's early stages of development, meaning he or she experiences no symptoms. As the mass matures, the individual may experience discomfort if the mass induces pressure on surrounding tissues or nerves, localized discomfort that is situated in the vicinity of the mass, or a swelling or growth that wasn't present before. Although a soft tissue mass may develop in any part of the body, many abnormalities occur in the individual’s extremities, such as the arms or legs, or the torso.

A soft tissue mass diagnosis is generally confirmed through a variety of diagnostic tests. Initially, the attending physician may perform a physical examination and take a complete medical history. A biopsy, or small tissue sample, may be taken prior to the administration of further testing. Small tumors may be biopsied using either a fine-needle aspiration or a core biopsy, which involves the excision of a larger portion of the abnormal tissue. The partial or complete excision of a larger tumor may be conducted during a surgical biopsy, which requires the use of general anesthesia.

After the biopsy is conducted, imaging tests are generally administered to evaluate the condition of the affected area. The individual may undergo testing that includes a computerized tomography (CT) scan, traditional X-rays, or a positron emission tomography (PET) scan. Based upon test results, a determination is generally made regarding the extent, or staging, and grade of the soft tissue sarcoma.

The extent of a diagnosed cancer is assigned a staging number from one to four. Stage one cancers are considered small in size and have not affected the surrounding tissue. Sarcomas given a two or three staging are more advanced in nature, larger in size, and may be more aggressive and invasive to surrounding tissues and organs. A stage four soft tissue sarcoma is the most advanced stage, having aggressively affected the body's lymphatic system, as well as other parts of the body.

Treatment for this condition is usually dependent on the individual and factors including the cancer's size, location, and staging. Surgery may be the first step in any treatment regimen and involves the removal of the tumor and any surrounding tissue which may be affected. In severe cases, amputation of the affected extremity may be necessary to prevent the further spread of cancerous cells. Radiation and chemotherapy may be utilized simultaneously to effectively target and eliminate cancerous cells. Additionally, anti-cancer drugs may be administered to reduce enzyme development that is essential for tumor maturation.

Also known as X-ray therapy, radiation therapy involves the administration of highly concentrated X-ray energy to the affected area to eradicate cancer cell development. Individuals undergoing radiation therapy may experience adverse side effects that include fatigue and a localized redness, or irritation, at the administration site. Chemotherapy involves the oral or intravenous administration of anti-cancer drugs to eliminate abnormal cell growth. Side effects associated with chemotherapy include nausea, vomiting, and an impaired immunity to infection.

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Discussion Comments
By jakobj11 — On Sep 30, 2015

I have the same question. A recent MRI for a back condition showed I have a small simple cyst on the lower part of my right kidney. It also showed I have a 3cm abnormal soft tissue mass on the upper part of this kidney that the radiologist says needs to be checked out for carcinoma . My nurse practitioner said not to worry as this isn't likely cancer. As such she won't authorize an ultrasound on a priority basis and I will have to wait two to three months. Living in Canada this is typical of the delays one can expect with our health care system. Any advice from someone who has experienced a similar finding would be welcome

By anon932910 — On Feb 13, 2014

Does having a soft tissue mass on a kidney automatically mean it is cancer?

By anon351920 — On Oct 17, 2013

Why is everything called cancer? It wasn't in the past. A tumor was just that.

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