Sarcoma Program

The Northside Hospital Cancer Institute (NHCI) Sarcoma Program offers comprehensive, multidisciplinary cancer care, sub-specialized clinical expertise and a personalized approach to cancer care. Our Program combines the expertise of an academic center with the touch only a community hospital can provide. We offer patients access to:

  • Dedicated expertise in pathologic diagnosis of a variety of soft tissue tumors
  • Comprehensive state-of-the-art plastic and reconstructive surgery
  • Advanced forms of radiation therapy which minimize damage to normal surrounding tissues
  • Latest systemic therapies including individually targeted therapy and immunotherapy
  • Access to patient support programs including nurse navigation, support groups, behavioral health services and nutrition services.

What Is Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Soft tissue sarcoma (STS) is a rare cancer that develops from connective tissues (stroma) of the body such as fat, muscles, nerve tissue, fibrous tissues and blood vessels. Sarcoma can arise anywhere in the body, frequently hidden deep in the limbs. Some sarcomas may even originate from stem cells, or cells that have not formed into a specific type of tissue yet. Sarcomas account for just 1 percent of cancers in adults.

There are many different types of sarcomas. The type of sarcoma depends on the type of soft tissue from which it forms:

  • Muscles
  • Tendons
  • Fat
  • Blood vessels
  • Lymph vessels
  • Nerves
  • Tissues in around joints

Soft tissue sarcoma can form almost anywhere, but is most common in the:

  • Head
  • Neck
  • Arms
  • Legs
  • Trunk
  • Abdomen

Learn more about soft tissue sarcoma.

Symptoms of Sarcoma

In the early stages of soft tissue sarcoma, there are often no signs or symptoms. As the cancer grows, it may cause a lump or swelling that keeps growing over time. Most lumps are NOT cancer.

Northside Hospital Cancer Institute recommends evaluation for any lump that is:

  • Greater than five centimeters in diameter (the size of a golf ball)
  • Increasing in size
  • Causing pain or other symptoms
  • Growing within a scar where another tumor was removed or surgery was performed
  • In a muscle or deeper (rather than just below the skin)

Symptoms of sarcoma include:

  • Pain, if the tumor is pressing on a nerve, organ, blood vessel or muscle
  • Blockage or bleeding in the stomach or intestines
  • Breathing problems

Learn more about sarcoma symptoms.

Sarcoma Risk Factors

It is not known what causes most sarcomas, therefore there is no known way to prevent them from occurring. Certain risk factors may lead to a person developing a soft tissue sarcoma:

  • Radiation given to treat other cancer
  • Familial cancer syndrome
  • Exposure to chemical carcinogens
  • Chronic irritation

Knowing sarcoma risk factors and telling a medical provider when symptoms are first noticed can increase a person’s chance of surviving soft tissue sarcoma.

Diagnosing Soft Tissue Sarcoma

At Northside Hospital Cancer Institute, our physicians are experts in the pathologic diagnosis of a variety of soft tissue tumors and sarcomas.

We provide a compassionate, full spectrum of care to patients with:

  • Soft tissue sarcomas of the head and neck and trunk
  • Retroperitoneal sarcomas
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST)
  • Fibromatosis (desmoid tumors)
  • Rhabdomyosarcomas

The tests used for diagnosing sarcoma vary greatly from case to case. Some may require a CT scan or MRI, while others may require a PET scan. The findings from these procedures are used to determine the size and extent of the sarcoma, and to see if it has spread to other areas of the body. In some cases, a patient's doctor may want to perform a biopsy prior to surgery. Biopsies can be used to obtain a diagnosis as well as for surgical planning and determining if radiation is needed. Biopsies may be performed in the office or by radiologists, depending upon the circumstances.

Team of Sarcoma Specialists

The strength of Northside Hospital Cancer Institute’s Sarcoma Program is our multidisciplinary team of dedicated sarcoma specialists and oncology support services team members. Our expert medical teams work together every step of the way to provide individualized care for each soft tissue sarcoma patient. Northside’s sarcoma specialists and oncology care team members offer a comprehensive scope of medical services, the latest technology, leading-edge clinical research and compassionate support.

Our multidisciplinary team of sarcoma specialists consists of:

  • Surgical oncologists
  • Plastic reconstructive surgeons
  • Medical oncologists
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Pathologists
  • Radiologists
  • Certified genetic counselors
  • Sarcoma nurse navigator
  • Sarcoma research nurses

Rollover the graphic for more information

Multidisciplinary 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

NHCI’s Sarcoma Program holds weekly multidisciplinary cancer conferences to provide a forum for sarcoma specialists to review radiology and pathology images and discuss the best Sarcoma Treatment Options, including clinical trials, and agree upon an evidence-based treatment plan for each patient. Because NHCI physicians come together to prospectively discuss each sarcoma case during conference, sarcoma patients get the benefit of not just one clinical perspective but more than a dozen expert opinions.

Sarcoma Treatment Options

The treatment of a sarcoma depends on the type, location, size and extent of the cancer. Surgical resection or a complete removal of the sarcoma by a surgical oncologist is an essential part of any curative treatment. Radiation therapy may be used prior to surgery, particularly for larger sarcomas of the extremity, or following surgery. Radiation is used to decrease the size of the tumor prior to operating or to allow preservation of important structures near the tumor, such as bone or nerves. Chemotherapy is used less frequently in the treatment of sarcomas, and generally limited to treatment of sarcomas that have metastasized. It is also sometimes used in conjunction with radiation.

Surgery is the most common treatment for sarcoma. Depending on the site and stage of a sarcoma, the surgical oncologist may be able to remove the cancer and some of the nearby tissue. The goal of surgery is to remove the entire tumor along with at least 1 to 2 centimeters (less than an inch) of the normal tissue surrounding the tumor, making sure no cancer cells are left behind.

Sometimes chemotherapy, radiation, or both is given before surgery. In some cases, adjuvant treatment, or treatment prior to surgery, can shrink the tumor and allow it to be removed completely. Chemotherapy or radiation can also be given before surgery to treat high-grade sarcomas when there is a great risk of the cancer spreading.

Chemotherapy uses medication to destroy cancer cells by stopping growth. At Northside's infusion Centers, chemotherapy is provided on an outpatient basis by registered nurses who are certified in chemotherapy administration.

Depending on the type and stage of sarcoma, chemotherapy may be given as the main treatment or as an adjuvant (addition) to surgery. Chemotherapy for soft tissue sarcoma generally uses a combination of several anti-cancer drugs.

Chemotherapy – Questions for the doctor

Radiation therapy is a treatment that uses high energy X-rays or radiation to kill cancer cells. Radiation may be used before the surgery to shrink a tumor or after surgery to kill remaining cancerous cells.

For most sarcomas, radiation is given after surgery as an added measure. This is called adjuvant treatment and it is done to kill any cancer cells that may be left behind after surgery. Radiation may also be used before surgery to shrink the tumor and make the operation easier. This is called neoadjuvant treatment.

Radiation can be the main treatment for sarcoma in someone whose general health is too poor to undergo surgery. Radiation therapy can also be used to help symptoms of sarcoma when it has spread. This is called palliative treatment.

Northside Hospital offers two types of radiation therapy to treat soft tissue sarcomas:

  • External beam radiation therapy (EBRT)
  • Brachytherapy

Learn more about our Radiation Oncology services

Targeted therapy drugs target the parts of sarcoma cells that make them different from normal cells. Targeted drugs work differently from standard chemotherapy drugs, which basically attack any quickly dividing cells. Sometimes, targeted drugs work when chemotherapy does not, and they can also have less severe side effects.

Targeted Therapy - Questions to ask the doctor

Clinical trials are studies that involve people and are a critical part of oncology research. These studies test new ways to prevent, detect, diagnose or treat cancer. The NHCI Research Program is one of the largest community-based oncology/hematology programs in the nation. Our Sarcoma Program maintains ongoing access to promising National Cancer Institute (NCI) and industry-sponsored clinical trials, which include trials designed to determine the impact of multigene panel molecular tumor profiling in patient management.

Learn more

Learn more about NHCI cancer treatment options

Sarcoma Support & Survivorship

For anyone facing sarcoma treatment and recovery, ongoing cancer support is crucial. Northside Hospital Cancer Institute’s Sarcoma Program provides a full range of sarcoma support and survivorship programs and services to address the unique needs of each sarcoma patient.

Sarcoma treatment and recovery can be overwhelming, which is why the NHCI Sarcoma Program has an oncology nurse navigator to support, educate and guide patients every step of their cancer journey – from diagnosis and treatment to recovery. Our sarcoma nurse navigator is a registered nurse with extensive knowledge and training in oncology. Nurse navigators are available to help guide patients after diagnosis and through treatment, educating and supporting them to make informed decisions.

Our oncology nurse navigators facilitate access to Northside Hospital Cancer Institute’s comprehensive portfolio of patient support services and they work with radiologists, surgeons, oncologists and other providers to coordinate a personalized sarcoma treatment plan based upon each patient’s unique needs.

To speak with an oncology nurse navigator, please call 404-300-2800 or email

Northside Hospital Cancer Institute provides a full range of Support and Survivorship programs and services to address the unique needs of sarcoma patients.

Learn more about all NHCI's Support and Survivorship resources and services.