Radiation for Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses high-energy X-rays to destroy sarcoma cells. Doctors usually recommend radiation in combination with surgery to remove a soft tissue sarcoma.

Whether you receive radiation therapy before or after surgery depends on the size and location of the tumor. Before surgery, radiation can shrink a tumor. This makes it easier for the surgeon to remove it without harming surrounding tissue and organs. After surgery, radiation can decrease the chances that the cancer will come back in the same area of the body.

Radiation therapy requires careful planning. MSK has a dedicated team of radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, medical physicists, and other experts who are trained to treat specific types of cancer, including soft tissue sarcoma. Our goal is not only to eliminate the cancer but to prevent the side effects of radiation by keeping the healthy tissues and organs close to the tumor safe.

Our sarcoma doctors are internationally recognized for their expertise and contributions to the field of radiation oncology.

Our doctors deliver radiation therapy in a variety of forms. Which approach is right for you depends on the type of tumor you have, if it has spread (metastasized), and whether the tumor is located in the extremities, the abdominal cavity, or the retroperitoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity).

Radiation for Soft Tissue Sarcoma in the Legs and Arms

For many people with soft tissue sarcoma in the extremities, we recommend radiation therapy after surgery. At Memorial Sloan Kettering, our goal is to treat the cancer while preserving function in the limbs.

Our radiation oncologists typically recommend an approach called intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) for some people with soft tissue sarcoma in the extremities. IMRT is a sophisticated, computer-guided technique. It allows for the safe delivery of much higher doses of radiation to the tumor than traditional external-beam radiation therapy. With IMRT, the normal surrounding tissue is spared from the radiation.

MSK is highly experienced in the use of IMRT. Our researchers developed this approach in 1996. IMRT is now used around the world to treat soft tissue sarcoma, as well as other forms of cancer.

Our experts are constantly exploring new ways to improve radiation therapy for soft tissue sarcoma. For example, we are studying how to reduce the time needed to give radiation.

Our doctors also understand that some people may not benefit from radiation therapy. This means some of our patients can avoid unnecessary treatment and side effects.

Radiation for Soft Tissue Sarcoma in the Abdomen

For soft tissue sarcoma in the retroperitoneum, we can tell who is most likely to benefit from radiation therapy before surgery. Precision is extremely important in our treatment recommendations. Our goal is to treat the cancer while minimizing the impact to nearby organs.

Approaches we may recommend include stereotactic body radiation therapy as well as proton therapy.

Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) is a cancer treatment. It delivers extremely precise, very intense doses of radiation to cancer cells. By using SBRT, doctors can minimize the damage to healthy tissue. SBRT involves the use of sophisticated image guidance. It can pinpoint the exact three-dimensional location of a tumor so that the radiation can be more precisely delivered to the cancer cells.

Proton therapy uses special particles that are focused on the tumor and do not penetrate beyond the tumor. For this reason, proton therapy reduces the likelihood of side effects caused by damage to nearby healthy tissues. This also allows doctors to use a higher radiation dose on a tumor, maximizing the chances of destroying the cancer cells.

Memorial Sloan Kettering is one of a limited number of centers nationwide offering proton therapy.