What Is Liposarcoma?

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Liposarcoma is a rare type of cancer that develops in fat cells. The tumor (called a lipomatous tumor) typically starts in the fat layer just under the skin, in the thighs, behind the knees, or the abdomen, but it can form in any soft, fatty tissue in the body.

Tumors are usually painless and slow growing. Sometimes, they can grow rapidly and put pressure on the organs and tissues around or near the tumor. In some cases, the cancer can spread to other areas of the body, including the organs.

This article will review the symptoms and causes of liposarcoma, as well as how this cancer is diagnosed and treated.

Man getting blood drawn

Marko Geber / Getty Image

Liposarcoma Symptoms

The most typical symptom of liposarcoma is a lump under the skin that is painless. As the tumor grows, it may press on organs, muscles, or nerves and create other symptoms.

Other symptoms of liposarcoma can include the following:

  • Pain
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Problems with breathing
  • Blood in the stool
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Weakness
  • Swelling
  • Constipation
  • Pain or tenderness around the lump

Causes and Risk Factors

There is no definite cause of liposarcoma. Researchers believe that certain genetic changes within fat cells may trigger the cells to grow uncontrollably, leading to the formation of a tumor. Certain factors may increase the risk of developing liposarcoma. These include:

  • Sex: Men are more likely to develop liposarcoma than women, with the cancer most commonly occurring in men ages 50–65.
  • Radiation exposure: Prior exposure to radiation, such as to treat another cancer, may increase the risk of liposarcoma.
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals: Long-term exposure to some industrial chemicals, such as the toxic chemical vinyl chloride that is used to make plastic, has been associated with higher rates of liposarcoma.
  • Genetic conditions: Certain hereditary cancer syndromes can raise a person's risk of developing soft tissue tumors, like liposarcoma.

Diagnosis

If liposarcoma is suspected, your healthcare provider will conduct a number of tests. Some of the tests used to diagnose liposarcoma are:

Physical exam: Your healthcare provider will carefully look over your body for tumors, feeling for any growths or abnormalities.

Biopsy: During this procedure, a healthcare professional will use a needle to remove a sample of tissue from the tumor. This sample is then sent to a lab to be examined under a microscope and tested. This is an important step in determining if the tumor is cancerous or benign, and classifying the type of cancer cells and how fast they are growing.

Imaging tests: These tests may be used to help locate the tumor, and determine if and where the cancer has spread. The tests that may be used include ultrasound, X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or a computed tomography (CT) scan.

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Treatment

When an individual is diagnosed with liposarcoma, there are several options for treatment. The treatment your healthcare team recommends will depend on the location of the cancer, how fast it's growing, and if it has spread.

Treatment options include the following:

Surgery: During this procedure, a surgeon will make an incision to remove the tumor and often a small amount of healthy tissue surrounding the area as well. This can help improve the chance that there are no cancer cells remaining.

Radiation therapy: A radiation oncologist will use targeted X-ray beams to kill cancer cells. This treatment may be used before surgery to help shrink the tumor, or after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancerous tumor returning.

Chemotherapy: This is medication designed to kill cancer cells throughout the body. It can be given orally in pill form or through IV (intravenous) infusion. This treatment can also be used before surgery to slow the growth or shrink tumors, or after surgery to prevent cancer recurrence. It may also be used to treat cancer that is inoperable or has spread.

Prognosis

If liposarcoma is caught early, it can sometimes be cured completely with surgery.

Some patients will need to continue treatments to manage the disease and prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. It is essential to work with your healthcare team to monitor your condition and provide additional treatment, if necessary.

Summary

Liposarcoma is a rare type of cancer that forms in soft, fatty tissue, usually in the abdomen, thighs, or behind the knees or arms. Most often, the cancer is symptomless aside from a painless lump under the skin. It can be diagnosed via biopsy and imaging tests. Treatment options include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

A Word From Verywell

A cancer diagnosis is life changing. It is natural to be scared, angry, or confused. There will be a lot to think about and process as you navigate this journey. It's a good idea to reach out to your friends and loved ones for help in adjusting to the lifestyle changes, increased doctor's visits, and treatments. It can also be a good idea to find a support group or seek out a licensed mental health professional to help you through the changes.

In addition, it's important to work with your healthcare team to develop a treatment plan that works for you, your lifestyle, and your condition. Remember that they are there for you to lean on, answer any questions or concerns regarding your diagnosis and treatments, and point you toward any additional resources you may need.

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  1. Cleveland Clinic. Liposarcoma.