Optimal treatment of soft-tissue sarcoma requires multidisciplinary management at a sarcoma center. However, these rare tumors are often misinterpreted as benign and many are inadequately treated outside a sarcoma center, with an increased risk of local recurrence that often requires further extensive surgical treatment. To improve referral and centralization of soft-tissue sarcoma management in the southern Sweden health care region, an open-access outpatient clinic at our sarcoma center and simple referral guidelines have been established for the past thirty years. The guidelines call for referral of all deep-seated soft-tissue tumors and of all =5-cm superficial tumors before open biopsy or surgery. We evaluated adherence to these guidelines and characterized referral patterns. We also studied the consequences of our strategy with regard to the relative numbers of benign and malignant diagnoses among referred patients.
Adherence to guidelines, referral pathways, and time to referral to the sarcoma center were analyzed in a population-based series of 100 consecutive patients with soft-tissue sarcoma in the extremities or trunk wall. We also analyzed diagnosis and management of benign and malignant tumors in a second cohort consisting of 464 consecutive patients referred to the sarcoma center because of a soft-tissue tumor.
Ninety-seven of the 100 patients with soft-tissue sarcoma were referred to the sarcoma center. All fifty-eight of the deep-seated soft-tissue sarcomas and twenty-eight of the forty-two superficial tumors were referred before open biopsy or surgery. Three-quarters of the patients with soft-tissue sarcoma first presented to a general practitioner. One-quarter of these patients were directly referred to the sarcoma center, which cut the referral time in half compared with patients initially referred to a local hospital. One-quarter of all patients referred to the outpatient clinic were diagnosed with a malignancy, with the majority of the malignancies being soft-tissue sarcoma.
Our simple referral guidelines and open-access outpatient clinic resulted in nearly complete referral of patients with soft-tissue sarcoma to the sarcoma center. The "excess work" associated with referral of benign tumors according to our strategy was limited to the diagnosis of three benign tumors for each malignant tumor. We consider this surplus evaluation of benign tumors acceptable and probably necessary to achieve a high referral rate of soft-tissue sarcoma before initial surgery.
Therapeutic Level III. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.