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What are the risk factors?

The causes of most sarcomas are not known. However, there are several risk factors:

Radiation therapy

There is a very small risk for people who have had radiation therapy (also known as radiotherapy) to treat other types of cancer. The risk is higher for people who had high doses of radiation therapy at a very young age. Most people who have had radiation therapy in the past will not develop soft tissue sarcoma.

Genetic factors

Some rare, inherited conditions can put people more at risk of soft tissue sarcoma. These rare, genetic conditions include von Recklinghausen disease (also known as neurofibromatosis or NF), Li–Fraumeni syndrome (also known as p53) and retinoblastoma (also known as Rb). Most people know if one of these very rare conditions runs in their family, and if so, that they may pass it to their children. If you do not know of this condition in your family, then it is very unlikely that it is present. A small number of people develop sarcoma due to genetic changes that happen during their lifetime, rather than inheriting a faulty gene.

Chemicals

Some sarcomas may be linked to being exposed to chemicals including vinyl chloride (used to make plastic) and some high-dose herbicides (weedkillers).

Other

Long-term lymphoedema in the body, for example in the legs or arms (swelling from a build-up of lymph fluid) has been linked with angiosarcoma.

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed February 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Susie Bae, Medical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Tony Bice, Consumer; Dr Denise Caruso, CEO Australian and New Zealand Sarcoma Association, VIC; Emma Gardner, Nurse Coordinator, Bone and Soft Tissue Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jonathan Granek, Consumer; Thelma Lobb, Consumer.