Diagnosis & Staging

When you come to Memorial Sloan Kettering, our doctors will discuss your medical history and perform a physical examination to determine your symptoms and assess your overall health. We review or conduct imaging studies such as CT, MRI, and PET scans to evaluate the disease and may also perform a biopsy, in which we take a small sample from the tumor so a pathologist can examine it under a microscope.

We also perform genetic and molecular sequencing on the tumors of all of our patients. Of the more than 70 subtypes of soft tissue sarcoma, many have unique genetic “fingerprints.” We now know that the various subtypes of soft tissue sarcoma differ in terms of their behavior and their genetic variations. Our pathologists are highly skilled at recognizing such variations and their relevance for treatment. In fact, when our pathologists analyze soft tissue sarcoma biopsies submitted for a second opinion, they change the patient’s initial diagnosis in about 15 percent of cases.

Our investigators are leading the Sarcoma Genome Project, a collaborative effort with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, to clearly define and delineate the different types of soft tissue sarcomas using state-of-the-art cancer genomics technologies. The goal is to improve the prediction of sarcoma prognosis and to develop specific therapies targeted to each sarcoma type.

By characterizing sarcomas molecularly and genetically in these ways, we improve the accuracy of your diagnosis and can better determine the most effective treatment approach for you.

After the biopsied tissue has been evaluated and the imaging studies have been completed, our doctors stage the tumor. Staging involves identifying the location of the tumor and how far it may have spread. This information is then used to design a customized treatment strategy.