Medications for Soft Tissue Sarcoma

To treat soft tissue sarcoma, NYU Langone doctors may use chemotherapy, which are drugs used to kill cancer cells throughout the body; targeted medications, which are directed toward the sarcoma, with the goal of avoiding healthy tissue; and hormone therapy.

Treatment is determined by the results of tests used to specify the type of sarcoma, its aggressiveness, and its genetic features. This personalized approach means our sarcoma experts can select the medications most effective for treating the tumor and tailor the length and number of treatment cycles to your condition.


If the soft tissue sarcoma is small and not aggressive, meaning it is not likely to grow or spread quickly, chemotherapy may not be needed. These small tumors can often be treated with surgery alone.

If biopsy results show the tumor is growing rapidly, or if it’s large or has spread, your doctor may recommend using chemotherapy before surgery. NYU Langone sarcoma specialists pioneered the use of chemotherapy before surgery for adult soft tissue sarcoma, making them leaders in the medical management of these cancers.

Chemotherapy given before surgery, also called neoadjuvant chemotherapy, may be used to shrink large tumors, making surgery a more feasible, safe, and successful option. This approach also reduces the need for amputation of a limb and lessens the risk of the cancer coming back. Chemotherapy, on occasion, may be given after surgery to destroy tumor cells that have spread to other parts of the body.

Our doctors are also leaders in using high doses of chemotherapy when it is safe and appropriate.

Targeted Drugs

Based on the subtype of soft tissue sarcoma, your doctor may prescribe targeted medications as part of your treatment.

For example, gastrointestinal stromal tumor sarcoma may respond to targeted therapy, such as imatinib, commonly known as Gleevec®. Imatinib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, which targets and blocks proteins called kinases found on the surface of cancer cells. These proteins send signals to the cell’s control center, telling it to grow and divide. By blocking the signals, the medication causes the sarcoma cells to die. Imatinib is taken daily by mouth.

Another targeted medication called pazopanib blocks multiple kinase proteins associated with the formation of blood vessels in tumors and may be useful in treating some advanced soft tissue sarcomas.

Hormone Therapy

Fibromatosis and desmoid tumors, two benign, or noncancerous, forms of sarcoma, may respond to hormone therapy. These tumors have proteins on the cell surface that are sensitive to the sex hormone estrogen, causing them to grow. Blocking estrogen with medications such as tamoxifen can help to inhibit this process, shrinking tumors.

Medication Side Effects

Chemotherapy and targeted medication side effects may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and lowered levels of red and white blood cells. Low red blood cell levels cause anemia, a condition that can lead to fatigue and shortness of breath. Low white blood cell levels can increase the risk of infection.

All of these side effects can be managed with medications or other therapies prescribed by your doctor. Specialists at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center support you through chemotherapy with a variety of services, from support groups to holistic wellness programs. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms and connect you with the support services that best suit your needs.