Further tests for soft tissue sarcomas

You may need to have further tests if you are diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma. This is so your doctors can see where the cancer is and whether it has spread. The results of these tests help your doctors decide what the best treatment is for you.

Possible tests include:

  • Chest x-ray – this checks whether a sarcoma has spread to your lungs.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan – this uses magnetism to build up a picture of your body.
  • CT (computerised tomography) scan – this uses x-rays to build up a three-dimensional picture of the inside of your body.
  • Ultrasound scan of the tummy (abdomen) – this uses soundwaves to build-up a picture of your internal organs.
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scan – this test measures the activity of cells in different parts of your body.

Waiting for test results can be difficult. It may take from a few days to a couple of weeks for the results to be ready. You may want to talk to someone close to you or one of our cancer support specialists.

Further tests for soft tissue sarcomas

If the tests show that you have a soft tissue sarcoma, you may need further tests to see exactly where the cancer is and whether it has spread. The results of all these tests help your doctors gather as much information as possible, so they can decide what the best treatment is for you.

Other tests may include the following:


Chest x-ray

This will be done to check your general health and to look for any sign that the cancer has spread to your lungs. This is because the lungs are one of the most common places for soft tissue sarcomas to spread to.


MRI scan

This test uses magnetism to build up a detailed picture of areas of your body. The scanner is a powerful magnet so you may be asked to complete and sign a checklist to make sure it's safe for you. The checklist asks about any metal implants you may have, such as a pacemaker, surgical clips, bone pins, etc. You should also tell your doctor if you've ever worked with metal or in the metal industry as very tiny fragments of metal can sometimes lodge in the body. If you do have any metal in your body it's likely that you won't be able to have an MRI scan. In this situation another type of scan can be used.

Before the scan, you'll be asked to remove any metal belongings including jewellery. Some people are given an injection of dye into a vein in the arm, which doesn't usually cause discomfort. This is called a contrast medium and can help the images from the scan to show up more clearly. During the test you'll lie very still on a couch inside a long cylinder (tube) for about 30 minutes. It's painless but can be slightly uncomfortable, and some people feel a bit claustrophobic. It's also noisy, but you'll be given earplugs or headphones. You can hear, and speak to, the person operating the scanner.


CT (computerised tomography) scan

A CT scan takes a series of x-rays, which build up a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body. The scan takes 10–30 minutes and is painless. It uses a small amount of radiation, which is very unlikely to harm you and will not harm anyone you come into contact with. You will be asked not to eat or drink for at least four hours before the scan.

CT scan
CT scan

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You may be given a drink or injection of a dye, which allows particular areas to be seen more clearly. This may make you feel hot all over for a few minutes. It’s important to let your doctor know if you are allergic to iodine or have asthma, because you could have a more serious reaction to the injection.

You’ll probably be able to go home as soon as the scan is over.


Ultrasound scan of the tummy (abdomen)

This may be used if you have a lump in your tummy (abdominal lump).

An ultrasound scan uses sound waves to produce pictures of internal organs such as the liver, and the inside of the tummy (abdomen). You’ll usually be asked not to eat or drink for a few hours before the test.

Once you’re lying comfortably on your back, a gel is spread on to your tummy. A small device like a microphone is passed over the area. This produces sound waves, which are then converted into a picture by a computer. The test only takes a few minutes.

If the lump is in your womb, the ultrasound scan may be done by inserting an ultrasound device into your vagina. This is known as a transvaginal ultrasound scan and gives a very clear picture of the womb.

The ultrasound scan was very easy. I wasn’t looking at it or anything. It was completely unworrying.

Jane


PET (positron emission tomography) scan

PET scans can be used to accurately define the cancer and find out if it has spread to other parts of the body. PET scans can also be used to examine any lumps that remain after treatment to see if they are scar tissue or whether cancer cells are still present.

A PET scan uses low-dose radioactive glucose (a type of sugar) to measure the activity of cells in different parts of the body. The scan may help to find out if a tumour is growing and whether it is cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign).

A very small amount of a mildly radioactive substance is injected into a vein, usually in your arm. A scan is then taken a couple of hours later. Cancer cells are usually more active than surrounding tissue, and show up on the scan. Not all hospitals have PET scanners. If you need one, you may have to travel to another hospital.


Waiting for test results

Waiting for test results can be a difficult time. It may take from a few days to a couple of weeks for the results of your tests to be ready. You may find it helpful to talk with your partner, your family or a close friend. Your specialist nurse or one of the organisations listed on our database can also provide support. You can also talk things over with one of our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

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