Mortality and Survival Rates


Lead Author(s): 

William G. Ward, Sr., MD
David J. Sheedy, MPH
Elaine G. Russell, PhD, RN

Supporting Author(s): 

Sylvia I. Watkins-Castillo, PhD

The 5-year survival rate in 2010-2014 for soft tissue sarcomas is reported at 64% by the SEER database and an overall relative survival rate of 50% by the American Cancer Society.1 This rate is similar to that for leukemia, colon and rectum, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancers. Average length of survival after diagnosis is 5 years, similar to that of breast, colon, and bladder cancers. White women have a slightly higher 5-year survival rate than do men and live an average of 1 year longer after diagnosis. Black women are diagnosed at about the same  average age as black men with soft tissue sarcomas but live an average of two years longer after diagnosis. (Reference Table 6A.A.1.5.1 PDF CSV; Table 6A.A.1.7 PDF CSV; and Table 6A.A.1.8 PDF CSV)

For high-grade soft tissue sarcomas, the most important prognostic factor is the stage at which the tumor is identified. Staging criteria for soft tissue sarcomas are primarily determined by whether the tumor has metastasized or spread elsewhere in the body. Size is highly correlated with risk of metastasis and survival. In general, the prognosis for a soft tissue sarcoma is poorer if the sarcoma is large. As a general rule, high-grade soft tissue sarcomas over 10 cm in diameter have an approximate 50% mortality rate and those over 15 cm in diameter have an approximate 75% mortality rate.

The staging criteria of soft tissue sarcoma of the National Cancer Institute groups sarcomas by whether they are still confined to the primary site (called localized); have spread to nearby lymph nodes or tissues (called regional); or have spread (metastasized) to sites away from the main tumor (called distant). The 5-year survival rates for soft tissue sarcomas have not changed much for many years. The corresponding 5-year relative survival rates were:
•    83% for localized sarcomas (56% of soft tissue sarcomas were localized when they were diagnosed)
•    54% for regional stage sarcomas; (19% were in this stage)
•    16% for sarcomas with distant spread (16% were in this stage)
The 10-year relative survival rate is only slightly worse for these stages, meaning that most people who survive 5 years are probably cured.1

Sarcomas are often staged by orthopedic oncologists with a staging system established by Dr. William Enneking and adopted and modified by surgical societies primarily consisting of orthopedic oncologists. That may have accounted for the lack of AJCC staging data in many cases of bone and soft tissue sarcomas reported to the NCDB. Nearly 40% of cases for 2000-2011 reported in the NCDB data have an unknown stage. This is a much higher proportion than found among other common cancer types, making it difficult to compare the severity of soft tissue sarcomas to other cancers.


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