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Synovial Cell Sarcoma Treatment & Management

  • Author: Bernardo Vargas, MD; Chief Editor: Harris Gellman, MD  more...
Updated: Nov 20, 2014

Medical Therapy

Adjuvant chemotherapy and neoadjuvant chemotherapy have been proposed for patients with metastatic soft-tissue sarcomas. Nevertheless, chemotherapy in the treatment of synovial cell sarcoma remains controversial.

Ladenstein et al reported improved survival rates with the use of adjuvant doxorubicin- and cyclophosphamide-based chemotherapy. Other authors have recommended combinations of doxorubicin (75 mg/m2 via continuous infusion over 3 days) and bolus ifosfamide (2.5 g/m2 daily for 4 days, or ifosfamide with liposomal daunorubicin). Granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) may stimulate the bone marrow. Chemotherapy should be considered in patients with extremity tumors larger than 5 cm.[1, 2, 3, 7]

Some studies showed promising results in the treatment of synovial cell sarcoma xenografts with a murine monoclonal antibody.[21] This monoclonal antibody attacks a frizzled homologue called FZD10 (a cell-surface receptor), which is present in synovial sarcoma cells and absent in normal organs. Clinical applications of these monoclonal antibodies are not yet available. An additional innovative technique could be a SYT-SSX–derived peptide vaccine.[12]

Another controversial aspect of treatment of synovial cell sarcoma is the efficacy of chemotherapy as adjuvant treatment after surgery. Chemotherapy has not proved to provide a significant benefit in survival rates in all series. A multicenter clinical trial for the treatment of patients with soft-tissue sarcoma includes patients with stage IV sarcomas and evaluates the clinical response to treatment with topotecan and carboplatin. Information is available on the clinical trial web site.


Surgical Therapy

Surgical excision is still the cornerstone of treatment for synovial cell sarcoma. A tumor-free margin of 1-3 cm is recommended.[4] Maximal care must be taken to reduce the risk of local recurrence. Careful preoperative planning is essential. Because of the tumor's predilection for the popliteal fossa, limb salvage may not be possible, because of the proximity of the neurovascular structures.

Even with microscopically negative margins, patients could develop local recurrence. Rare local recurrence has been reported 15 years after the initial treatment.[10] Surgical resection of isolated metastases may be possible if the tumor is well controlled. Palliative surgery may also be appropriate, particularly to alleviate pain or achieve hemorrhage control.[22]


Preoperative Details

Because synovial cell sarcoma spreads along fascial planes, careful preoperative staging is crucial. Radiologic evaluation before treatment is very important. Imaging techniques employed in preoperative evaluation include radiography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT).

Synovial cell sarcoma has the ability to metastasize via the lymphatic system.[23] Venous metastasis can occur as well. Synovial sarcoma is most likely to invade adjacent bone.

Preoperative radiation therapy is associated with an increased rate of wound problems. This neoadjuvant radiotherapy is sometimes proposed before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor.


Intraoperative Details

The ideal surgical approach to synovial cell sarcoma takes into account the location of the lesion and must always include the possibility of amputation in cases of unsuccessful total resection. Thus, a radical or wide resection is indicated, depending on the location of the tumor. The mass may be tagged so that the location of any close or contaminated margins can be identified.

A primary amputation is proposed if the location and extension of the tumor do not provide adequate function of the extremity. Primary amputation is required in 20% of patients.[1] Vascular resection and reconstruction are most often performed in the lower extremities.[24]


Postoperative Details

Postoperative radiation therapy is usually required, particularly if the margins are close to vital neurovascular structures. The most common radiotherapy is external-beam radiation that is directed at the tumor site and that includes a margin of surrounding normal tissue. The decision about the timing of radiation therapy (ie, before or after surgery) is controversial.

The local radiation dose is usually 40-60 Gy. Vital neurologic structures, open physes, or an extreme peripheral location (hand or foot) can make external-beam radiation therapy potentially hazardous. Brachytherapy (radiation administered by a local implant) is an alternative consideration.[25] Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) has also been proposed.[1]



Follow-up involves clinical examination, MRI of the surgical site, and CT of the chest. After surgical treatment, the authors recommend MRI, CT, and a patient review every 3-6 months for the first 2 years and then every 6 months for the next 3 years. Most recurrent metastatic disease develops within the first 2 years, but late recurrence has been documented.[26]



The surgical complications are related to the site involved but include the general complications of wound infection, wound breakdown, neurologic or vascular injury, and hematoma or seroma formation.

Specific complications associated with this tumor are local recurrence and distant metastases. The risk of local recurrence is directly proportional to the adequacy of surgical clearance. Therefore, a wide excision is mandatory to reduce this risk. Essential neurologic structures may make a wide clearance impossible, especially in the popliteal fossa. Accordingly, it may be necessary to consider nerve grafting, later muscle transfers, or both in order to allow the wide margin required.


Outcome and Prognosis

Synovial cell sarcoma has been reported to be particularly likely to metastasize.[27] Many factors modify patient outcome,[11, 23, 28, 14] such as tumor size, anatomic localization, and histologic grade. Nevertheless, histologic criteria such as nuclear grade, measures of mitotic count, and amount of necrosis are subjective and sometimes difficult to compare.

Synovial cell sarcoma has survival rates of 50-60% at 5 years and 40-50% at 10 years. However, advances in oncologic therapy, particularly the development of monoclonal antibodies, may improve survival rates (see Future and Controversies).

A slight improvement in survival rate has been reported with the use of chemotherapy as adjuvant therapy.[7, 2, 3] Recurrence has been reported up to 69 months after treatment and suggests a worse prognosis with low survival rates. Distant metastases at presentation suggests a bad prognosis (2-year survival rate of 25%).

Campbell et al described prognostic factors that correlated with a better prognosis, including the following[29] :

  • Biphasic histologic pattern
  • Patients with SYT/SSX2 fusion genes
  • Location in the hand or foot
  • Size < 5 cm
  • Female sex
  • Age < 50 years
  • Negative resection margins

Crowson et al conducted a retrospective review of medical records to determine clinical and pathologic factors affecting survival in primary synovial cell sarcoma of the head and neck.[30] Their study included 28 patients who underwent surgery for the removal of the primary lesion, of whom nine received adjuvant radiation therapy, two received chemotherapy, and 14 received postoperative chemoradiation therapy.

The investigators found that the presence of metastases on initial presentation and tumor size exceeding 4 cm were factors associated with decreased survival.[30] They concluded that adding chemotherapy to postoperative radiotherapy does not increase survival or disease control.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Bernardo Vargas, MD Consulting Staff, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, University Hospital of Geneva, Switzerland

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Mark Clayer, MD, MBBS FRACS, FAOrthA, Head of Musculoskeletal Tumor Service, Department of Orthopaedics and Trauma, Queen Elizabeth Hospital; Senior Visiting Medical Specialist, Royal Adelaide Hospital and Women's and Children's Hospital, Australia

Mark Clayer, MD, MBBS is a member of the following medical societies: Australian Medical Association, Australian Orthopaedic Association

Disclosure: Received honoraria from Orthopedics hyperguide for independent contractor; Received grant/research funds from Stryker for employment.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Sean P Scully, MD 

Sean P Scully, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis, Society of Surgical Oncology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Harris Gellman, MD Consulting Surgeon, Broward Hand Center; Voluntary Clinical Professor of Orthopedic Surgery and Plastic Surgery, Departments of Orthopedic Surgery and Surgery, University of Miami, Leonard M Miller School of Medicine, Clinical Professor, Surgery, Nova Southeastern School of Medicine

Harris Gellman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American Orthopaedic Association, American Society for Surgery of the Hand, Arkansas Medical Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Howard A Chansky, MD Associate Professor, Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, University of Washington Medical Center

Howard A Chansky, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Lateral radiograph depicts a synovial sarcoma of the dorsum of the hand. A small nodule, present for 5 years, rapidly enlarged to the present size over 2 months.
T1-weighted MRI depicts a synovial sarcoma of the dorsum of the hand. The tumor has low signal on T1 weighting.
T2-weighted MRI depicts a synovial sarcoma of the dorsum of the hand. The tumor has a heterogeneous signal on T2 weighting, indicative of a variable growth pattern.
Although synovial sarcoma typically has a biphasic histology, this disease is often monophasic (lacking glandular differentiation), which produces the picture of a small, round blue cell tumor.
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