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Although the causes of soft tissue sarcomas are unknown, research is going on to try to find out more. Sarcomas, like other cancers, are not infectious and can’t be passed on to other people.
Sarcomas can occur at any age but are more common as people get older. About two-thirds of all soft tissue sarcomas are diagnosed in people over 50.
Most sarcomas are not caused by an inherited faulty gene that can be passed on to other family members. Members of your family are not likely to have an increased risk of developing a soft tissue sarcoma because you have one.
However, people who have some rare inherited genetic conditions are more at risk of developing a sarcoma. These conditions include neurofibromatosis, Gardner’s syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome and retinoblastoma|. You would normally know if any member of your family had one of these conditions, and their doctor would check them regularly for any sign of a sarcoma.
Very rarely, a soft tissue sarcoma will occur in a part of the body that has previously been treated with radiotherapy for another type of cancer. The sarcoma will not usually develop until at least 5-10 years after the radiotherapy treatment. To reduce the risk, radiotherapy is very carefully planned. Improvements in the way radiotherapy is given mean that the risk of developing a sarcoma is very small.
The development of some sarcomas may be linked to exposure to some types of chemicals. The chemicals include: vinyl chloride, which is used for making plastics; some types of herbicides (weedkillers); and dioxins, which are a waste product produced during the manufacture of chemicals and fertilisers.
There is no evidence that an injury can cause a soft tissue sarcoma to develop. It’s possible that an injury may draw attention to a sarcoma that was already there and not causing any symptoms, but the sarcoma will have taken many years to develop.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2013
Next planned review: 2015
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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