Sarcoma | Bone Cancer



We offer expert, coordinated care for all types of sarcomas. Our goal is to protect your quality of life and long-term health.

Medically reviewed by Robert Canter, M.D. on Dec. 18, 2023.

Female nurse smiling at a male patient in a hospital bed

Advanced Care for Soft Tissue Cancers

Cancer specialists (oncologists) at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center provide advanced care for common and rare soft tissue cancers. We help children and adults with sarcomas lead full, active lives.


What Is Sarcoma?

Sarcomas are rare cancerous tumors that form in your bones or connective tissues. Adults and children can get sarcomas.

When sarcomas start in your bones, you have bone cancer. Osteosarcoma is the most common bone cancer.

Tumors that form in your connective tissue are called soft tissue sarcomas. These tumors may start in:

  • Blood vessels
  • Cartilage (joint linings)
  • Fat cells 
  • Lymphatic vessels
  • Muscles
  • Nerves
  • Tendons

There are more than 50 types of soft tissue sarcomas. Two of the most common — liposarcoma and undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma — often form in the soft tissue in the legs. Leiomyosarcoma tumors can arise in blood vessels or muscles throughout the body.


Sarcoma Symptoms

More than half of soft tissue sarcomas start in an arm or leg. But the tumors can form anywhere in your body. Symptoms vary depending on the tumor location.

Common Symptoms

Signs of soft tissue sarcomas include:

  • Newly formed lump that may or may not cause pain
  • Swelling of the abdomen that gets bigger slowly over time
  • Worsening abdominal pain or back pain

Sarcoma Causes and Risk Factors

Changes to genes can cause healthy cells to become cancerous. These mutations allow diseased cells to grow out of control.

Some people inherit a gene change from a parent that increases their chances of developing soft tissue sarcomas. More commonly, a gene change occurs over time (an acquired mutation).

Most people who get soft tissue sarcomas have no known risk factors. The following factors may increase your risk:

Exposure to Chemicals

There may be a link between exposure to certain chemicals and sarcoma. These chemicals include vinyl chloride monomer (used in plastics), arsenic and certain herbicides.

History of Radiation Treatment

A small number of people who receive radiation therapy for a previous cancer go on to develop sarcomas at or near the radiated site.

Inherited Cancer Syndromes

People with gene changes that cause certain syndromes are more at risk. These inherited disorders include neurofibromatosis, Li-Fraumeni syndrome and retinoblastoma (a rare eye cancer).


Surgery or radiation therapy for an earlier cancer can cause lymphedema, a buildup of lymph fluid. Angiosarcomas, a type of soft tissue sarcoma, can form in these swollen areas.


Diagnosis and Testing of Sarcoma

Experts at our Department of Radiology use advanced musculoskeletal imaging techniques to diagnose sarcomas that affect bones and soft tissues.

You may get one or more medical imaging tests, such as: 

Looking at a sample of the tumor cells (a biopsy) under a microscope is the only way to know for sure if you have cancer or a noncancerous (benign) condition.

Your health care provider may use a needle to remove cells from the tumor. Or a biopsy may occur after your provider surgically removes the tumor.

Sarcoma Treatments

We’re a regional referral center for the treatment of soft tissue and bone sarcomas. Other centers send patients to us for our leading-edge treatments and high-quality patient care. We have sarcoma specialists for adults and children (pediatric oncologists).

You or your child benefit from a full range of sarcoma treatments at our cancer center.


Surgery to remove the cancerous sarcoma tumor is the most common treatment. Our surgical oncologists remove the tumor with a rim of normal tissue around it to have a margin. This approach decreases the chance of the tumor coming back.

Radiation Therapy

This treatment uses energy beams to destroy cancer cells. You may get radiation therapy before surgery to shrink the tumor. After surgery, radiation therapy destroys lingering cancer cells. Some people get radiation therapy after surgery instead of before. In some cases, patients are treated with radiation to manage sarcoma when surgery isn’t an option.


Chemotherapy medications circulate in your blood to destroy cancer cells. You may receive chemotherapy before surgery to shrink a tumor. Some people get chemotherapy after surgery (with or without radiation therapy) to destroy lingering cancer cells.

Targeted Therapy and Immunotherapy

Targeted therapy drugs block proteins that allow cancer cells to grow and multiply. Immunotherapy drugs help your immune system find and destroy cancer cells.

"Soft Tissue Sarcomas and Subtypes," Sarcoma Alliance,

“What is sarcoma?" Sarcoma Alliance, 

Who does it affect?

13,400New soft tissue sarcoma cases occur in the U.S. each year

Soft tissue sarcomas cause

5,140Annual deaths in the U.S.

Osteosarcoma is most common in ages

10-30But people of any age can develop it

Source: American Cancer Society: Key Statistics for Soft Tissue Sarcomas

American Cancer Society: Key Statistics for Osteosarcoma

Request an Appointment

Our cancer specialists provide thorough evaluations and personalized treatment plans. Learn more about how to make an appointment at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.



UC Davis Health Referring Physicians

For providers in UC Davis Medical Group or our Cancer Care Network

External Referring Physicians

For providers who are external clinicians

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