Salvage Therapy in Advanced Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials

Oncologist. 2017 Dec;22(12):1518-1527. doi: 10.1634/theoncologist.2016-0474. Epub 2017 Aug 23.


Background: Prognosis for patients with metastatic soft tissue sarcomas (STS) is dismal, with median overall survival (OS) of 8-12 months. The role of second-line therapy has been inconsistently investigated over the last 20 years. This systematic review and meta-analysis was performed to assess the efficacy of salvage treatment in pretreated adult type STS, gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) excluded.

Material and methods: PubMed, Web of Science, SCOPUS, EMBASE, CINAHL, and The Cochrane Library were searched for randomized phase II/phase III trials exploring second- or beyond therapy lines in pretreated metastatic STS. Two independent investigators extracted data; the quality of eligible studies was resolved by consensus. Hazard ratio (HR) of death and progression (OS and progression-free survival [PFS]) and odds ratio (OR) for response rate (RR) were pooled in a fixed- or random-effects model according to heterogeneity. Study quality was assessed with the Cochrane's risk of bias tool, and publication bias with funnel plots.

Results: Overall, 10 randomized trials were selected. The pooled HR for death was 0.81 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.73-0.9). Second-line therapy reduced the risk of progression by 49% (HR = 0.51, 95% CI 0.34-0.76). This translated into an absolute benefit in OS and PFS by 3.3 and 1.6 months, respectively. Finally, RR with new agents or chemotherapy doublets translated from 4.3% to 7.6% (OR = 1.78, 95% CI 1.22-2.50).

Conclusion: Better survival is achieved in patients treated with salvage therapies (chemotherapy, as single or multiple agents or targeted biological agents). A 3-months gain in OS and an almost double RR is observed. Second lines also attained a reduction by 50% the risk of progression.

Implications for practice: There is some evidence that salvage therapies after first-line failure are able to improve outcome in metastatic soft tissue sarcoma (STS). Trabectedin, gemcitabine-based therapy, and pazopanib are currently approved drugs used after conventional upfront treatment. This meta-analysis reviews the benefit of new agents used in randomized trials in comparison with no active treatments or older agents for recurrent/progressed STS. The results show that modern drugs confer a statistically significant 3-month benefit in terms of overall survival, and an increase in response rate. Despite a limited improvement in outcome, currently approved second-line therapy should be offered to patients with good performance status.

Keywords: Chemotherapy; Meta‐analysis; Pretreated; Second line; Soft tissue sarcoma.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Doxorubicin / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Salvage Therapy / trends*
  • Sarcoma / drug therapy*
  • Sarcoma / pathology


  • Doxorubicin