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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What is liposarcoma?

Liposarcoma is a type of cancer that most often develops from fat cells. It is most commonly found in your legs or thighs, but it can also be found in your abdomen, back, arms, chest, and neck. Liposarcomas most often occur in people between the ages of 50 to 70 years old.

What causes liposarcoma?

The exact cause of liposarcoma is not known, but it may be caused by damaged genes. Liposarcomas more commonly occur in an area of your body that has been injured. You may be at a higher risk if have received radiation treatment in the past.

What are the different types of liposarcoma?

Liposarcoma may be a low-grade or high-grade tumor. A low-grade tumor is usually slow growing and does not spread to other areas of your body. A high-grade tumor is usually larger and often spreads to other areas in your body. The type of liposarcoma that you have will depend on the kind of cells that make up your tumor. Your liposarcoma may be any of the following:

  • Well-differentiated: This is the most common type of liposarcoma and usually does not spread to other areas. It is most often found in the deep tissue of your legs and thighs. It may also be found in your back, abdomen, or arms.
  • Myxoid: This is the second most common type of liposarcoma. Myxoid liposarcomas are often low grade and are commonly found in the leg muscles. Myxoid tumors may spread to the tissue that covers your lungs and heart. Round cell liposarcoma is a type of myxoid liposarcoma that is high grade and more likely to spread to other areas of your body.
  • Dedifferentiated: This kind of liposarcoma is made up of both a fatty tumor and a nonfatty tumor. These are normally found in the back or abdomen This type of liposarcoma may spread to other areas such as your lungs, liver, or bones.
  • Pleomorphic: This is a rare type of liposarcoma. It has very little or no fat in it, and it is a high-grade tumor. They are commonly found in your leg muscles. Pleomorphic tumors often spread to your lungs, liver, brain, and bone.
  • Mixed: This tumor is made up of more than one type of liposarcoma. It most often grows in your abdomen.

What are the signs and symptoms of liposarcoma?

Liposarcomas are usually painless and slow growing. You may be able to see or feel it under your skin. You may have pain if your tumor grows and presses on your nerves and blood vessels. Depending on where your tumor is, you may have any of the following:

  • Decreased movement in the limb that has the tumor
  • Pain and swelling in the area of your tumor
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, or bloody bowel movements
  • Trouble urinating or pain while urinating
  • Trouble swallowing or weight loss
  • Coughing or trouble speaking and breathing

How is liposarcoma diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms and other medical conditions. He may feel the tumor and area around it. You may also need any of the following tests:

  • X-ray: This is used to take a picture of your tumor and the area around it. These pictures may show if the tumor has damaged your bones. Your healthcare provider may also take an x-ray of your lungs to check if the cancer has spread.
  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your tumor and check for other problems. Pictures of your lungs and other organs may be taken to check if the cancer has spread. You may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help healthcare providers see the pictures better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.
  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your tumor and the area around it. An MRI may be used to look at the organs, blood vessels, nerves, and bones around your tumor. It may also help healthcare providers learn what type of tumor you have. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Positron emission tomography scan: This is also called a PET scan. Your healthcare provider may use this test to see if you have cancer and if it has spread. A dye is injected into your vein (blood vessel). This dye helps show your cells more clearly. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.
  • Biopsy: During this procedure, a small amount of tissue is removed from your tumor. Your healthcare provider may use a needle or a small tool to take the tissue sample. If a large sample is needed, your healthcare provider may need to make an incision. The sample will be sent to a lab for tests. The lab test will show if your tumor is a liposarcoma and what type it is.

How is liposarcoma treated?

  • Chemotherapy: This medicine works by killing cancer cells. Your healthcare provider may use chemotherapy to make your tumor smaller before surgery. Your healthcare provider may also give you chemotherapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that remain.
  • Radiation: Radiation kills cancer cells and prevents the cancer from spreading. Radiation may also help stop your cancer from coming back after surgery. You may need radiation before, during, or after surgery.
  • Surgery: You may need surgery to remove your tumor and some of the tissue around it. A graft may be used to replace bone or tissue that has been removed. A graft is a piece of tissue from another area of your body or from a donor. In some cases, your healthcare provider may need to amputate (remove) your limb to remove your tumor.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

What are the risks of liposarcoma?

With surgery, you may bleed more than expected or get an infection. If surgery was done on your arm or leg, you may have trouble doing your usual activities. Even with treatment, the liposarcoma may grow back, spread, or be life-threatening. You may need to have another surgery and other treatments to treat cancer that comes back. If your liposarcoma is not treated, your cancer may spread to other areas of your body. The cancer cells may damage your organs and your symptoms may worsen. This can be life-threatening.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods: Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Balanced nutrition may decrease side effects and risk of infection, help you feel better during treatment, and help you heal faster. Ask if you need to be on a special diet. Work with a dietitian to plan the best meals and snacks for you.
  • Drink liquids as directed: Ask your healthcare provider or oncologist how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. It is especially important to drink enough liquids if you are vomiting from chemotherapy. Try to drink enough liquid each day and not just when you feel thirsty. It may be helpful to drink liquids between your meals instead of with your meals.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have trouble swallowing.
  • You see or feel any new lumps in your body.
  • You feel new pain in the area of your tumor.
  • You are not able to have a bowel movement.
  • You think you are pregnant.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have chest pain and trouble breathing.
  • You have no feeling in or near the area of your liposarcoma.
  • You are not able to move the part of your body where your tumor is.
  • You see blood in your stools.
  • You vomit blood.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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