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Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma

  • Dana-Farber / Children's Hospital Cancer Center logo

    Malignant fibrous histiocytoma is a soft tissue sarcoma that usually occurs in the limbs, most commonly the legs, and may also occur in the abdomen. Learn about malignant fibrous histiocytoma and find information on how we support and care for children and teens with sarcoma before, during, and after treatment.

The Solid Tumor Center at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center treats children and teens with a variety of solid malignancies, including bone and soft tissue tumors, liver and kidney tumors, neuroblastomas, retinoblastomas and rare tumors. Our doctors provide unparalleled expertise in the diagnosis, treatment and management of these diseases.

Your child's care team will include pediatric oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, radiologists, and nurses with expertise in treating your child's specific type of cancer.

Our physicians are focused on family-centered care: From your first visit, you'll work with a team of professionals who are committed to supporting your family's needs. We consider you and your child integral parts of the care team. Our specialists will collaborate with you to customize a treatment plan that takes the needs of your child and your family into account.

As well as providing access to a range of innovative clinical trials through Dana-Farber/Boston Children's, we are New England's Phase I referral center for the Children's Oncology Group, which means we're able to offer clinical trials unavailable at other regional centers.

Your child will have access to long-term treatment and childhood cancer survivor support through Dana-Farber's David B. Perini, Jr. Quality of Life Clinic.

From diagnosis through treatment and survivorship, our team will be able to answer all of your questions about your child's care.

Find out more about our Solid Tumor Center, including the diseases we treat and our specialized programs for bone and soft tissue tumors, liver tumors, neuroblastoma, rare tumors, and retinoblastoma.

Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma


A malignant fibrous histiocytoma is a type of cancerous tumor that can start in either bone or, most often, in the soft tissues that connect, support or surround organs and other body parts. Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center provides comprehensive medical and surgical care for children and adolescents with benign or malignant bone and soft tissue tumors.

  • It’s a painless mass that most often turns up in the extremities, although it can occur anywhere in the body.
  • It most commonly spreads (metastasizes) to the lungs, but can also invade the lymph nodes and bone.
  • The cause is unknown but has been linked to genetics, radiation treatment and inherited diseases.
  • It’s among the most common types of soft tissue tumors found in adults but is rarely found in children.
  • Treatment may include surgery along with radiation and/or chemotherapy.
  • The tumor can come back.

How Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center approaches malignant fibrous histiocytoma

Our multidisciplinary approach to care ensures in-depth discussion of each case and personalized treatment plans for every patient. We integrate expertise from the following specialists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital:

  • pediatric oncologists, surgical oncologists and radiation oncologists
  • pediatric experts from every medical subspecialty, such as orthopedics, ophthalmology, physical therapy and radiology, among others
  • highly skilled and experienced pediatric oncology nurses
  • child life specialists, psychologists, social workers and resource specialists who provide supportive care before, during and after treatment

We are conducting numerous research studies to help better understand and treat soft tissue and bone sarcomas.

In depth

What is malignant fibrous histiocytoma?

A malignant fibrous histiocytoma is a type of cancerous tumor that can start in either bone or, most often, in the soft tissues that connect, support or surround organs and other body parts. It’s a painless mass that most often turns up in the extremities, although it can occur anywhere in the body. It most commonly spreads (metastasizes) to the lungs, but can also invade the lymph nodes and bone.

What causes malignant fibrous histiocytoma?

The exact cause of malignant fibrous histiocytoma is not entirely understood, however, studies have indicated that genetics may play a role. In addition:

  • Scientists are looking into the role of an associated genetic abnormality on the short arm of chromosome 19 that may give rise to this disease.
  • It has also been linked to radiation treatment for breast cancer, retinoblastoma and Hodgkin disease.
  • Malignant fibrous histiocytoma originating in the bone has been linked to pre-existing conditions such as Paget's disease or fibrous dysplasia of the bone.
Is malignant fibrous histiocytoma common?

While it’s among the most common types of soft tissue tumors found in adults, it is rarely found in children. It makes up only a tiny percentage of all soft tissue sarcomas, which as a group account for only 1 percent of new cancer cases in children each year.

What are the symptoms of malignant fibrous histiocytoma?

Because soft tissue sarcomas affect tissue that is elastic and easily moved, a tumor may exist for a long time before being discovered, growing large and pushing aside surrounding tissue. Symptoms vary greatly with the size, location and spread of the tumor, but may include:

  • painless swelling or mass anywhere on the body
  • pain or soreness caused by compressed nerves or muscles
  • limping or other difficulty using the legs, feet, arms or hands


How does a doctor know that it’s malignant fibrous histiocytoma?
Diagnostic procedures for malignant fibrous histiocytoma are used to determine the exact type of tumor your child has and whether the tumor has spread. These may include:

  • Physical exams, including neurologic function tests including: reflexes, muscle strength, eye and mouth movement, coordination and alertness.
  • X-rays to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body and/or spine.
  • Computerized tomography scans (also called a CT or CAT scan) to capture a detailed view of the body, in some cases.
  • Biopsy or tissue samples from the tumor to provide definitive information about the type of tumor; this is collected during surgery.
  • Bone scans to detect bone diseases and tumors as well as to determine the cause of bone pain or inflammation.
  • Complete blood count (CBC), which measures size, number and maturity of different blood cells in a specific volume of blood.
  • Blood tests including blood chemistries

Treatment & Care

Traditional treatments for malignant fibrous histiocytoma

Treatments for malignant fibrous histiocytoma may involve a combination of therapies including surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy. The most common procedures include:

Depending on the size and location of the tumor, your child may either need:

  • Limb-salvage surgery to preserve the limb by removing the tumor and wide margins of healthy tissue surrounding the tumor.
  • Amputation, if the tumor cannot be removed (for example, if it involves the nerves and blood vessels).

Radiation therapy
Our doctors use precisely targeted and dosed radiation to kill cancer cells left behind after your child’s surgery.

Chemotherapy is a drug that interferes with the cancer cell’s ability to grow or reproduce.

  • Different groups of chemotherapy drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells and shrink tumors.
  • Often, a combination of chemotherapy drugs is used.
  • Certain chemotherapy drugs may be given in a specific order depending on the type of cancer it is being used to treat.

While chemotherapy can be quite effective in treating certain cancers, the agents do not differentiate normal healthy cells from cancer cells. Because of this, there can be many adverse side effects during treatment. Being able to anticipate these side effects can help the care team, parents, and child prepare, and, in some cases, prevent these symptoms from occurring.

Chemotherapy is systemic treatment, meaning it is introduced to the bloodstream and travels throughout the body to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be given:

  • as a pill to swallow
  • as an injection into the muscle or fat tissue
  • intravenously (IV), directly to the bloodstream
  • intrathecally, directly into the spinal column with a needle

Supportive care
This is any type of treatment to prevent and treat infections, side effects of treatments, and complications, and to keep your child comfortable during treatment.

What is the recommended long-term care for children treated for malignant fibrous histiocytoma?

Children treated for malignant fibrous histiocytoma should visit a survivorship clinic every year to:

  • manage disease complications
  • screen for early recurrence of cancer
  • manage late effects of treatment

A typical follow-up visit may include some or all of the following:

  • a physical exam
  • laboratory testing
  • imaging scans

Through the David B. Perini, Jr. Quality of Life Clinic at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, childhood cancer survivors receive a comprehensive follow-up evaluation from their cancer care team.

  • Our childhood cancer survivorship clinic is held weekly.
  • In addition to meeting with your pediatric oncologists, your child may see one of our endocrinologists, cardiologists, neurologists, neuro-psychologists or alternative/complementary therapy specialists.
  • We also offer the following services:
    • patient and family education
    • psychosocial assessment
    • genetic counseling
    • reproductive and fertility evaluation and counseling
    • opportunities to speak with other childhood cancer survivors

Research and Innovations


Boston Children's Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute are also conducting numerous research studies to help better understand and treat soft tissue and bone sarcomas.

Research underway

Types of treatment currently being studied include:

  • We are studying angiogenesis inhibitors, substances that may be able to prevent the growth of tumors.
  • We are also studying biological therapies, a wide range of substances that may be able to involve the body's own immune system to fight cancer or lessen harmful side effects of some treatments.
  • Researchers are looking into neoadjuvant chemotherapy and radiotherapy, treatments using chemotherapy and radiotherapy before resecting the primary tumor are being investigated.
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