A nationwide survey of the clinical presentation, pathology, and management of soft tissue sarcomas in adults was carried out under the auspices of the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons. Two separate 2-year periods were used to allow assessment of changes in patterns of care. Data were obtained from 504 hospitals in 1977-1978 (2355 patients) and 645 institutions in 1983-1984 (3457 patients). Pretreatment findings of interest included some evidence of physician delay in diagnosis, overuse of excisional biopsy as opposed to the generally preferred approach of incisional biopsy, a low rate of usage of the American Joint Committee for Cancer Staging (AJCSS) system, and major reliance on CT for pretreatment patient evaluation. Operation was the primary treatment, with or without adjuvant therapies, in approximately three fourths of the patients. The other one fourth were primarily patients with distant metastasis at the time of diagnosis. Some increase in multimodal therapy did occur in the second period but the rate of amputation was low (approximately 10%) in both periods studied. Survival curves support the prognostic validity of the AJCCS system and the value of complete resection of soft tissue sarcomas. Adverse prognostic factors included positive surgical margins, large tumors, retroperitoneal or mediastinal primary sites, some histologic types, and the perceived need for adjuvant therapy. Patients receiving adjuvant radiation or chemotherapy had less favorable survival data than those treated by operation alone due to criteria used for selecting patients for these therapies. Approximately one half of the treatment failures in the 1977-1978 series were locoregional, whereas 18% were limited to lung metastasis. Salvage therapy for these two forms of treatment failure yielded 61% and 21% 5-year survival rates.