What's New in Soft Tissue Sarcoma Research and Treatment?

Research is ongoing in the area of soft tissue sarcomas. Scientists are learning more about causes and ways to prevent sarcomas, and doctors are working to improve treatments.

Basic research

Scientists have made progress in understanding how certain changes in the DNA of soft tissue cells cause sarcomas to develop. This information is already being applied to new tests to diagnose and classify sarcomas. This is important because accurate classification helps doctors select the most appropriate treatment. It is hoped that this information will soon lead to new strategies for treating these cancers, based on specific differences between normal and malignant soft tissue cells.


Classification of most cancers, including sarcomas, is based mostly on the way they look under a microscope. Recent research has shown that several different kinds of soft tissue sarcomas can look very similar under the microscope. By using new lab methods, researchers discovered that most cancers that used to be called malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) are actually high-grade forms of liposarcoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, leiomyosarcoma, other sarcomas, and even carcinomas or lymphomas. About 10% to15% of cancers called MFH before, still cannot be given a precise classification, and these are now called pleomorphic undifferentiated sarcomas or undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcomas (although the current classification system of the World health Organization permits use of MFH as an alternate name).


Active research in chemotherapy for soft tissue sarcomas includes studies of new drugs and new ways to give drugs now available.

For example, a new drug called trabectedin (Yondelis®) has been shown to help some patients with certain types of soft tissue sarcomas, and has recently been approved for use in the United States.

Targeted therapy

Even more active than research into chemotherapy is research into targeted drugs. These drugs specifically block molecules in the cancer cells that cause the cancers to grow.

Other targeted drugs may also be helpful against sarcomas. For example, the targeted drug sunitinib (Sutent®) seems to slow the growth of many sarcomas. Sirolimus (Rapamune®) has shown some promise in treating patients with PEComa, especially pulmonary lymphangioleiomyomatosis. Other drugs being studied include cixutumumab, PD0332991, and ridaforolimus.

Anti-angiogenesis drugs

Drugs that block new blood vessel formation may help kill sarcomas by preventing their nourishment by the blood vessels. One such drug, bevacizumab (Avastin®) has shown a small benefit in sarcoma patients, when given with doxorubicin (Adriamycin). Cediranib is a newer anti-angiogenesis drug that shows promise in treating a certain kind of soft tissue sarcoma.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: December 29, 2014 Last Revised: February 9, 2016

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