Liposarcoma is a group of very rare cancers that usually begin in fat cells in your arms and legs. Healthcare providers treat liposarcoma with surgery to remove tumors. Some types of liposarcoma may come back, requiring additional treatment and long-term follow up to catch new tumors before they can spread.
Liposarcoma is a group of very rare cancers that begin in your fat cells. You can develop a liposarcoma in any part of your body, but these tumors typically begin in your belly, arms and legs. Healthcare providers treat liposarcoma with surgery to remove tumors. Some types of liposarcoma may come back, requiring additional treatment and long-term follow up to catch new liposarcomas before they can spread.
That depends on what kind of liposarcoma you have. In general, liposarcomas develop in your arms or legs, particularly in your thighs or the back of your knees, but you can also develop liposarcoma in the back of your belly.
Most liposarcomas grow very slowly and rarely cause pain. You may not notice any changes in your body unless you notice a large bump on your arm or leg that doesn’t go away or gets larger. A liposarcoma may cause pain if it presses on a nerve. Likewise, a liposarcoma may affect some of your organs. For example, a liposarcoma in your lungs may make it hard for you to breathe.
Liposarcoma isn’t common. It’s a rare form of soft tissue sarcoma, which affects approximately 4 in 100,000 people in the U.S. each year. Liposarcoma affects 1 in 100,000 people in the U.S. each year.
Liposarcoma typically affects more men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB) than women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB). It’s often found in men and people AMAB between ages 50 and 65, but one type of liposarcoma affects people ages 35 to 55.
There’s a wide range of liposarcomas. Some, such as well-differentiated liposarcoma or atypical lipoma of the extremities (arms and legs), grow slowly and aren’t life-threatening. Other types, such as myxoid liposarcoma or dedifferentiated liposarcoma, are likely to spread or come back after treatment. A pleomorphic liposarcoma can be very aggressive, growing very fast and quickly spreading from where it started to other areas of your body.
There are several liposarcoma types. The types have similar symptoms but can require different treatments and have different prognoses or expected outcomes.
This is the most common type, accounting for 30% to 50% of all liposarcomas. These are slow-growing painless tumors. They may appear in your arms and legs or your trunk. Providers may call them atypical lipomatous tumors. When you have a liposarcoma in the back of your abdomen/belly (retroperitoneum), it’s called a well-differentiated liposarcoma.
These are the second most common types of liposarcoma, accounting for about 30% of all liposarcomas. Unlike other types, myxoid liposarcoma may affect people age 35 to 55. Tumors in this type of liposarcoma usually develop in people’s legs. It can spread to nearby soft tissue, including muscle and skin. You can also have this liposarcoma type in your bones, such as your pelvic bones or your spine, or organs such as your heart, lungs or your esophagus.
The term “round cell” refers to how tumor cells appear when viewed under a microscope. Round cell liposarcomas account for more than 5% of liposarcomas and are an aggressive form of liposarcoma.
Some people with WDLS develop dedifferentiated liposarcoma. Unlike WDLS, this is usually a fast-growing tumor. DDLS typically appears in the back of people’s bellies, but may also affect their arms and legs. Like WDLS, providers treat DDLS with surgery. DDLS often come back after surgery. Overall, 44% of people with this condition were alive five years after diagnosis.
Pleomorphic liposarcoma is the least common form, accounting for 5% to 10% of all liposarcomas. It usually appears in people’s arms and legs, but can start in the back of their bellies or chest wall. Pleomorphic liposarcoma grows very fast, often spreading to people’s lungs. This type of liposarcoma has the worst survival rate.
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Liposarcoma symptoms vary based on tumor size and location. Some people don’t have symptoms, but others notice unusual lumps or bumps under their skin. People often notice changes only after tumors are large enough to press on organs, such as their lungs, intestines or stomach. Symptoms may include:
It may feel like a soft or rubbery lump under your skin. You may be able to move the lump by pushing on it with your fingers.
Liposarcoma happens when certain genes mutate, or change, causing fat cells to multiply uncontrollably and form tumors. Medical researchers have identified at least 20 different genetic mutations that cause liposarcoma. They don’t know all the reasons why these genes mutate, but researchers have identified some risk factors that increase your risk of developing liposarcoma:
Providers begin a diagnosis by doing a physical examination and asking about symptoms. Tests they may use include:
Liposarcoma treatment depends on the liposarcoma type, whether the cancer has spread and, if so, where it has spread. You may have a combination of more than one type of treatment for the disease. Treatments may include:
Side effects include recovering from surgery, as well as side effects from chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Healthcare providers typically treat liposarcoma with surgery to remove the tumor and nearby healthy tissue. Any type of surgery may have complications. Your surgeon will discuss your specific situation, but some common surgery complications may include:
Unfortunately, you may not be able to prevent liposarcoma, particularly if you have an inherited condition that increases your risk of developing the condition. You can reduce your risk of soft tissue cancers by avoiding long-term exposure to radiation and toxic chemicals such as vinyl chloride.
That depends on the type of liposarcoma you have and if it’s spread. For example, if you have well-differentiated liposarcoma that hasn’t spread, your surgeon may be able to remove the entire tumor. If the tumor doesn’t come back, your provider may consider you cured.
There are several types of liposarcoma with very different prognoses. If you have this condition, your healthcare provider is your best resource for information.
Each liposarcoma type is different, so your healthcare provider is your best resource for information about what you may expect, given your situation. In general, you may:
Contact your healthcare provider if you have a painless lump under your skin that’s larger than 5 centimeters (approximately the size of a golf ball) or if you experience other signs and symptoms of liposarcoma. If you’ve had liposarcoma, be sure to follow any schedule of testing or appointments that your healthcare provider suggests.
Unfortunately, you can’t prevent liposarcoma from coming back. Often, people with cancer that might return feel anxious every time they have a follow-up appointment. (Some cancer specialists call this “scanxiety.”) If you’re feeling anxious about the future, ask your provider what you can expect based on your situation.
Liposarcoma is a rare disease. You may not know much about it. Here are some suggestions for questions you may want to ask your provider:
A lipoma is a noncancerous soft tissue tumor that grows beneath your skin. Liposarcomas are cancerous soft tissue tumors that may grow in soft tissue deep inside your body. Lipomas aren’t life-threatening and oftentimes are simply observed without treatment. Liposarcomas are treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Liposarcomas may be life-threatening; while lipomas are never life-threatening.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you have a type of liposarcoma, you have a very rare form of cancer. Many times, healthcare providers can successfully treat this condition with surgery that removes and essentially cures the cancer. But some liposarcomas come back. You may need to have regular checkups for many years after completing treatment. Ask your healthcare provider about your situation, including symptoms that may indicate you have a liposarcoma that’s come back.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/12/2022.
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