BACKGROUND: There are neither prospective data nor agreement on the optimal routine follow-up procedures in patients treated for soft tissue sarcoma of the limb.
METHODS: Data on 174 consecutive patients with a soft tissue sarcoma of the limb undergoing follow-up by oncologists at a single centre from 2003 to 2009 were included in this analysis. The rate and site of recurrence and mode of detection were analysed. Outcome of the patients was assessed.
RESULTS: Eighty-two patients (47%) experienced relapse of any type. Isolated local recurrence occurred in 26 patients and local relapse with synchronous pulmonary metastases in five patients. Local recurrences were detected clinically in 30 of these 31 patients; magnetic resonance imaging identified only one local recurrence. Twenty-eight patients developed isolated lung metastases; in nine patients these were amenable to resections, seven of whom are currently free of disease after treatment. Lung metastases were detected by chest x-ray (CXR) in 19 patients, computed tomography scanning in 3 patients, and clinically in 11 patients. Twenty-three patients developed non-pulmonary metastases. More than 80% of relapses occurred in the first 2 years of follow-up; however, later recurrences were also observed.
CONCLUSIONS: Routine follow-up CXR can detect lung metastases suitable for surgical resection, although the optimal interval of imaging has yet to be defined. Local relapse is almost always detected by patients or physicians, and routine scanning of the primary site is of doubtful benefit. Patient and physician education to detect local relapse may be helpful. Prospective evaluation of follow-up is recommended.