BACKGROUND: Limb-sparing surgery in combination with radiation therapy is a well-established treatment for high-grade soft tissue sarcomas of the extremities. But selection of cases and optimal sequence of irradiation and surgery still remain controversial.
METHODS: 769 patients with a high-grade soft tissue sarcoma of the extremities, who underwent a limb-sparing surgery, were retrospectively reviewed. Group 1 (N = 89) was treated with neo-adjuvant radiation therapy, group 2 (N = 315) with adjuvant irradiation and group 3 (N = 365) with surgery alone.
RESULTS: After a mean follow up of 45 months 95 local recurrences occurred resulting in a local recurrence-free survival of 83.2% after 5 years and 75.9% after 10 years. Contaminated surgical margins (Odds ratio: 2.42) and previous inadequate surgeries (Odds ratio: 1.89) were identified as risk factors for failed local control. Neo-adjuvant radiation therapy provides the best local recurrence-free rate for 5 years (90.0%), whereas after 10 years (78.3%) adjuvant irradiation showed better local control. The metastatic-free rate was independent from achieved surgical margins (p = 0.179). Group 1 showed the highest rate of revision surgery (9.0%), followed by group 3 (5.5%) and group 2 (4.4%) (p = 0.085). However, the rate of irradiation-correlated side effects was higher in group 2 (15.2%) than in group 1 (11.2%) (p = 0.221).
CONCLUSION: Surgery has to be effective for successful local control and remains the mainstay of the treatment in combination with neo-adjuvant as well as adjuvant irradiation. In really wide or even radical resections the benefit of radiation therapy can be discussed as the irradiation induced side effects are not negligible.