Chemotherapy for soft tissue sarcomas

Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs work by disrupting the growth of cancer cells.

Chemotherapy may sometimes be given in the following ways:

  • Before surgery to shrink the tumour, making it easier to remove. This is known as neo-adjuvant treatment.
  • After surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. This is called adjuvant treatment.
  • To help control symptoms and improve a person’s quality of life if the cancer can’t be removed or has spread to other parts of the body. This is called palliative treatment. In some people, the chemotherapy will achieve this. Unfortunately, for other people, the chemotherapy will not shrink the cancer and they will have the side effects of the treatment with little benefit.

Chemotherapy is sometimes combined with radiotherapy.

Certain types of soft tissue sarcoma are always treated with chemotherapy. For other types, it is very rarely used. Your doctor can tell you whether chemotherapy will be used to treat your type of soft tissue sarcoma.

Giving chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs used for treating soft tissue sarcomas are usually given by injection into a vein (intravenously) but can sometimes be given as tablets.

The most commonly used drugs are:

Other drugs which may be used include:

These drugs can be given on their own, or two or more of them may be given together.

Chemotherapy is given as a session (or cycle) of treatment. You may have chemotherapy as an outpatient or you may need to be admitted to hospital for a few days. Each treatment is followed by a rest period of a few weeks to allow your body to recover from any side effects. The number of cycles you have will depend on the type of sarcoma you have and how well it responds to the drugs.

Back to Chemotherapy explained

When is chemotherapy used?

Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells in the body. Your doctor will explain if chemotherapy is advised for you.

How do chemotherapy drugs work?

Chemotherapy drugs work by stopping cancer cells reproducing. The drugs can also affect healthy cells, causing side effects.