BMUS: Soft Tissue Sarcomas
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BMUS: Soft Tissue Sarcomas

Lead Author(s): 

William G. Ward SR, MD
Robert M. Corey, MD

Supporting Author(s): 

Sylvia I. Watkins-Castillo, PhD

Soft tissue sarcomas account for less than 1% of all cancer cases diagnosed each year, and for a similar proportion of cancer deaths in a given year. Over the past decade, the overall incidence of soft tissue sarcomas showed a 31% increase in new cases diagnosed annually in the NCDB data, a slightly higher rate of increase than found for all the top 73 cancer sites reported. (Reference Table 8A.3.1 PDF CSV and Table 8A.5.2 PDF CSV)

In terms of case numbers, the musculoskeletal health burden in the United States from soft tissue sarcomas is three to four times greater than that of bone and joint sarcomas. For the period from 2006 to 2010, the annual average number of soft tissue neoplasms, including the heart, approximated 14,000 cases/year in the SEER database, a number similar to those for Hodgkin lymphoma.1 Estimated new cases for 2014 by the American Cancer Society are 12,000.2 Soft tissue sarcomas come in a wide variety of forms that affect different age groups, but the most frequently encountered soft tissue sarcomas affect older adults. (Reference Table 8A.3.1 PDF CSV)

As previously noted, the National Cancer Data Base (NCDB), a joint program of the Commission on Cancer and the American College of Surgeons, maintains the most thorough database on patients diagnosed with soft tissue sarcomas. Although the NCDB was not created to serve as an incidence-based registry, it currently gathers data on approximately 71% of the cancers treated in the United States. It should be noted this percentage varies from year to year based on the participation and reporting by hospitals to this voluntary database.

Over the 18-year period, 1985 to 2003, 86,355 soft tissue sarcomas of the extremities, shoulders ,and pelvic girdles and trunk were reported. This number excludes approximately 32,250 soft tissue sarcomas of the head and neck, thoracic, and abdominal areas; these patients are generally cared for by non-musculoskeletal specialists. Using a 20-year average and assuming 70% of the annual US cases are included in NCDB, more than 5,700 new cases of soft tissue sarcoma would have occurred annually. This compares to the estimated 12,020 cases predicted for 2014 by the American Cancer Society.2

A 2014 report by Corey, Swett, and Ward examined the adult cases reported to the NCDB of soft tissue sarcomas over a 13-year interval (1998–2010). In 2010, 5,070 soft tissue sarcomas were reported to the NCDB. While the numbers of soft tissue sarcomas reported to the NCDB increased by 19% over this 13-year period, the number of bone sarcomas reported to the NCDB increased by only 10.7% during this same time period.3


  • 2014

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