Sarcoma: Adult Soft Tissue Cancer

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

Survival by stage of soft tissue sarcoma

Survival rates are often used by doctors as a standard way of discussing a person’s prognosis (outlook). Some patients with cancer may want to know the survival statistics for people in similar situations, while others may not find the numbers helpful, or may even not want to know them. If you don’t want to know them, stop reading here and go to the next section.

The 5-year survival rate (or observed survival rate) refers to the percentage of patients who live at least 5 years after their cancer is diagnosed. Of course, many people live much longer than 5 years (and many are cured).

Five-year relative survival rates assume that some people will die of other causes and compare the observed survival with that expected for people without the cancer. This is a better way to see the effect of the cancer on survival.

To get 5-year survival rates, doctors have to look at people who were treated at least 5 years ago. If treatment has improved since then, people now being diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma may have a more favorable outlook.

Survival rates are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had the disease, but they cannot predict what will happen in any individual’s case. Many other factors might affect a person’s outlook, like the type of sarcoma, the location of the tumor, the treatment received, and the age of the patient. For example, sarcomas of the arms or legs have a better outcome than those found in other places. Also, older patients tend to have worse outcomes than younger people. Your doctor can tell you how the numbers below may apply to you, as he or she is familiar with your particular situation.

The rates below are based on the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis. When looking at survival rates, it’s important to understand that the stage of a cancer does not change over time, even if the cancer progresses. A cancer that comes back or spreads is still referred to by the stage it was given when it was first found and diagnosed, but more information is added to explain the current extent of the cancer. (And the treatment plan is adjusted based on the change in cancer status.)

The overall relative 5-year survival rate of people with soft tissue sarcomas is around 50% according to statistics from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). These statistics include people with Kaposi sarcoma, which has a poorer outlook than many sarcomas. The NCI doesn’t use the AJCC staging system. Instead, they group sarcomas only by whether they are still confined to the primary site (called localized) have spread to nearby lymph nodes or tissues (called regional); or have spread (metastasized) to sites away from the main tumor (called distant). The 5-year survival rates for soft tissue sarcomas have not changed much for many years. The corresponding 5-year relative survival rates were:

  • 83% for localized sarcomas (56% of soft tissue sarcomas were localized when they were diagnosed)
  • 54% for regional stage sarcomas; (19% were in this stage)
  • 16% for sarcomas with distant spread (16% were in this stage)

The 10-year relative survival rate is only slightly worse for these stages, meaning that most people who survive 5 years are probably cured.

For sarcomas of the arms and legs, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center has survival rates broken down by AJCC stage (these are for observed, not relative survival):

Stage

5-year observed survival rate

 

I

90%

II

81%

III

56%

IV

Not available

Survival is worse when the sarcoma has developed somewhere other than the arms or legs. For example, the 5-year survival for retroperitoneal sarcomas is around 40% to 60%.


Last Medical Review: 10/21/2013
Last Revised: 02/06/2014