Liposarcoma is a rare type of cancer that starts in the fat cells. It most often begins as a growth of cells in the belly or in the arm and leg muscles. But liposarcoma can begin in the fat cells anywhere in the body.
Liposarcoma happens most often in older adults, but it can happen at any age.
Liposarcoma treatment usually involves surgery to remove the cancer. Other treatments, such as radiation therapy, also may be used.
Liposarcoma is a type of cancer called a soft tissue sarcoma. These cancers happen in the body's connective tissues. There are many types of soft tissue sarcoma.
Liposarcoma symptoms depend on the part of the body where the cancer forms.
Liposarcoma in the arms and legs can cause:
- A growing lump of tissue under the skin.
- Weakness of the affected limb.
Liposarcoma in the belly, also called the abdomen, can cause:
- Abdominal pain.
- Abdominal swelling.
- Feeling full sooner when eating.
- Blood in stool.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with a doctor or other health care professional if you have any symptoms that don't go away and that worry you.
It's not clear what causes liposarcoma.
Liposarcoma starts when fat cells get changes in their DNA. A cell's DNA holds the instructions that tell the cell what to do. The changes turn the fat cells into cancer cells. The changes tell the cancer cells to grow quickly and make a lot of extra cells. The cancer cells keep living when healthy cells would die as part of their natural life cycle.
The cancer cells form a growth, called a tumor. In some types of liposarcoma, the cancer cells stay put. They continue making more cells, causing the tumor to get bigger. In other types of liposarcoma, the cancer cells might break away and spread to other parts of the body. When cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it's called metastatic cancer.
Tests and procedures used to diagnose liposarcoma include:
- Imaging tests. Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body. They might help show the size of the liposarcoma. Tests may include X-ray, CT scan and MRI. Sometimes a positron emission tomography scan, also called a PET scan, is needed.
- Removing a sample of tissue for testing. A procedure to remove some cells for testing is called a biopsy. The sample might be removed with a needle put through the skin. Or the sample might be taken during surgery to remove the cancer. The type of biopsy depends on the cancer's location.
- Testing the cancers cells in a lab. The biopsy sample goes to a lab for testing. Doctors who specialize in analyzing blood and body tissue, called pathologists, test the cells to see if they're cancerous. Other special tests give more details. Your health care team uses the results to understand your prognosis and create a treatment plan.
Treatments for liposarcoma include:
Surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove all of the cancer cells. Whenever possible, surgeons work to remove the entire liposarcoma without damaging any surrounding organs.
If a liposarcoma grows to involve nearby organs, removal of the entire liposarcoma may not be possible. In those situations, your health care team may recommend other treatments to shrink the liposarcoma. That will make it easier to remove during an operation.
- Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses powerful energy beams to kill cancer cells. The energy can come from X-rays, protons or other sources. Radiation may be used after surgery to kill any cancer cells that remain. Radiation also may be used before surgery to shrink a tumor to make it more likely that surgeons can remove the entire tumor.
Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses strong medicines to kill cancer cells. Some chemotherapy medicines are given through a vein and some are taken in pill form. Not all types of liposarcoma are sensitive to chemotherapy. Careful testing of your cancer cells can show whether chemotherapy is likely to help you.
Chemotherapy may be used after surgery to kill any cancer cells that remain. It also may be used before surgery to shrink a tumor. Chemotherapy is sometimes combined with radiation therapy.
- Clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies of new treatments. These studies give you a chance to try the latest treatment options. The risk of side effects may not be known. Ask a member of your health care team whether you can participate in a clinical trial.
Preparing for an appointment
Start by first seeing your usual doctor or other health care professional if you have any symptoms that worry you. If you're diagnosed with liposarcoma, you'll likely be referred to a doctor who specializes in treating cancer, called an oncologist.
Because appointments can be short, and because there's a lot to discuss, it's a good idea to be prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready.
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet.
- Write down any symptoms you have, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
- Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of all medicines, vitamins or supplements that you're taking. Know how much you take and when you take it. Also tell your doctor why you are taking each medicine.
- Consider taking a family member or friend along. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember all the information provided during an appointment. Someone who goes with you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
- Write down questions to ask.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so having a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. In general, focus on your top three questions. For liposarcoma, some basic questions to ask include:
- Do I have cancer?
- Do I need more tests?
- Can I have a copy of my pathology report?
- What are my treatment options?
- What are the potential risks of each treatment option?
- Can any treatments cure my cancer?
- Is there one treatment you think is best for me?
- If you had a friend or family member in my situation, what would you recommend?
- How much time can I take to choose a treatment?
- How will cancer treatment affect my daily life?
- Should I see a specialist? What will that cost, and will my insurance cover it?
- Are there brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
- What would happen if I choose not to have treatment?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared, don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Be prepared to answer some basic questions about your symptoms. Questions might include:
- When did you first begin experiencing symptoms?
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?