Sarcomas, Soft Tissue: Risk Factors

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2023

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing sarcoma. Use the menu to see other pages.

What are the risk factors for sarcoma?

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. Knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

Most sarcomas do not have known causes. The following factors may raise a person’s risk of developing sarcoma:

  • Previous radiation therapy. People who were treated with radiation therapy for a previous cancer, usually more than 5 years ago, have a slightly increased risk of later developing sarcoma in the area where the radiation was directed.

  • Genetics. People with certain inherited conditions have a higher risk of sarcoma. These diseases include neurofibromatosis type 1, also known as von Recklinghausen’s disease; familial adenomatous polyposis, also known as Gardner syndrome; Werner syndrome; tuberous sclerosis complex; nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome; Li-Fraumeni syndrome; and retinoblastoma.

  • Immune system problems. People with problems with their immune system have a higher risk of several types of cancer, whether from infections such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), cancers such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or autoimmune conditions such as lupus or psoriasis.

  • Lymphedema. People who have surgery or radiation therapy for other reasons may have swelling of an arm, leg, or other part of the body as a side effect of the treatment. This is called lymphedema. For example, lymphedema can happen after breast surgery when lymph nodes are removed from the armpit area. People can also be born with lymphedema. Sarcomas, such as angiosarcoma, occasionally form in areas where lymphedema had developed.

  • Chemicals. Workplace exposure to vinyl chloride monomer, which is used in making some types of plastics, Agent Orange, or dioxin may increase the risk of sarcoma. However, most sarcomas are not known to be associated with specific environmental hazards.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what changes or medical problems sarcoma can cause. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.