Sarcomas, Soft Tissue: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 06/2022

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done to learn more about sarcomas and how to treat them. Use the menu to see other pages.

Doctors are working to learn more about sarcoma, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the best diagnostic and treatment options for you.

  • Immunotherapy. As discussed in Types of Treatment, immunotherapy comes in many forms. Immune checkpoint inhibitors have become the focus of a lot of research. These drugs are targeted monoclonal antibodies (proteins) that turn on immune responses in the body by taking the brakes off the immune system. The molecules that are blocked have names such as CTLA-4, PD-1, PD-L1, OX40, LAG3, and TIM3. This approach has proved helpful in treating many cancers and in research studies about sarcomas.

    Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy and T-cell receptor therapy use white blood cells from a patient’s blood to destroy cancer cells. The patient’s cells are removed and then changed so they have specific proteins called receptors. These receptors allow those T cells to recognize the cancer cells. The changed T cells are grown in large numbers and returned to the patient’s body. Once in the patient’s body, these T cells seek out and destroy cancer cells. This technique shows the most promise when there is a known target on the sarcoma, such as in synovial sarcoma and myxoid-round cell liposarcoma. Clinical trials are investigating this exciting but complex form of immunotherapy. Learn more about the basics of CAR T-cell therapy.

    Vaccines against specific sarcoma proteins or other molecules are also being studied, often in addition to immune checkpoint inhibitors. This type of vaccine is intended to treat cancer.

  • Improved drug delivery. Some chemotherapies are incorporated into fat molecules called liposomes to improve the absorption and distribution of the drug in the patient’s body. Other new ways to get a chemotherapy into a cancer cell are being studied. For example, chemotherapy can be attached to proteins, so the chemotherapy can enter into the cancer cells. In some cases, these proteins are antibodies that target, or bind to, a specific marker on a cancer cell, so the chemotherapy is delivered only to cancer cells and not to normal cells, which can improve effectiveness and decrease side effects. These are called antibody-drug conjugates.

  • New drugs. New medications are being developed and tested that may be effective in treating some subtypes of soft-tissue sarcoma. Learn more about the process of drug development and approval. As explained in Types of Treatment, several targeted therapies have been recently approved to treat specific types of sarcoma. This is an active area of research for sarcoma.

  • Targeted therapy. As described in Types of Treatment, targeted therapy is a treatment that targets the tumor’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to tumor growth and survival. Clinical trials led to the approval of a targeted drug, pazopanib, to treat some sarcomas. Clinical trials of other medications that work in different ways to block tumor growth and survival are also underway.

  • Tumor genetics. Researchers are learning that some sarcomas have unique genetic “fingerprints.” Understanding these fingerprints may help doctors make precise diagnoses, determine better treatments, and possibly better predict a patient’s prognosis. A number of cancer centers and companies now offer genetic tests of cancers to determine whether people with a sarcoma might benefit from newer treatments.

  • Palliative care/supportive care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current sarcoma treatments to improve comfort and quality of life for patients.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like more information about the latest areas of research in sarcoma, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

  • To find clinical trials specific to your diagnosis, talk with your doctor or search online clinical trial databases.

  • Listen to a podcast from an ASCO expert discussing highlights in sarcoma research from ASCO Annual Meetings in 2020 and 2021.

  • Visit the Cancer.Net Blog to review other research announced at recent scientific meetings and perspectives on a sarcoma diagnosis.

  • Visit the website of Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation, to find out how to help support cancer research. Please note that this link takes you to a different ASCO website.

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance on how to cope with the physical, emotional, social, and financial changes that cancer and its treatment can bring. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.