Desmoid tumors: clinical features and treatment options for advanced disease

Oncologist. 2011;16(5):682-93. doi: 10.1634/theoncologist.2010-0281. Epub 2011 Apr 8.


Desmoid tumors describe a rare monoclonal, fibroblastic proliferation characterized by a variable and often unpredictable clinical course. Although histologically benign, desmoids are locally invasive and associated with a high local recurrence rate, but lack metastatic potential. On the molecular level, desmoids are characterized by mutations in the β-catenin gene, CTNNB1, or the adenomatous polyposis coli gene, APC. Proof of a CTNNB1 mutation may be useful when the pathological differential diagnosis is difficult and location might be predictive for disease recurrence. Many issues regarding the optimal treatment of patients with desmoids remain controversial; however, surgery is the therapeutic mainstay, except if mutilating and associated with considerable function loss. Postoperative radiotherapy reduces the local recurrence rate, in cases of involved surgical margins. Because of the heterogeneity of the biological behavior of desmoids, including long periods of stable disease or even spontaneous regression, treatment needs to be individualized to optimize local tumor control and preserve patients' quality of life. Therefore, the application of a multidisciplinary assessment with multimodality treatment forms the basis of care for these patients. Watchful waiting may be the most appropriate management in selected asymptomatic patients. Patients with desmoids located at the mesentery or in the head and neck region could present with life-threatening complications and often need more aggressive treatment. This review describes treatment options and management strategies for patients with desmoid tumors with a focus on advanced disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenomatous Polyposis Coli Protein / genetics
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Fibromatosis, Abdominal / pathology
  • Fibromatosis, Abdominal / therapy
  • Fibromatosis, Aggressive / genetics
  • Fibromatosis, Aggressive / pathology*
  • Fibromatosis, Aggressive / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Mesentery / pathology
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • beta Catenin / genetics


  • APC protein, human
  • Adenomatous Polyposis Coli Protein
  • beta Catenin