Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at July 9, 2016

Fat cells are found throughout the body between the skin and muscles, and they play an important role in storing energy that people get from food. Fat cells are also found deeper in the body where they protect nervous tissue and vital organs. Liposarcoma occurs when some of the cells become malignant, and this can occur anywhere within the body.


Definition & Facts

A liposarcoma is a rare form of cancer that only occurs in about one percent of newly diagnosed cancer patients. There are about 50 different forms of soft-tissue sarcomas, and liposarcoma is the most common form of this type of disease among adults. Around 2,000 new cases of liposarcoma occur in the U.S. each year, and most of these cases involve middle-aged adults between 40 and 60 years of age. Liposarcoma is classified into five categories:

  • Well differentiated
  • Dedifferentiated
  • Myxoid
  • Round cell
  • Pleomorphic.

Each category is treated differently by doctors because each has its own biological make-up and risk of spreading and recurrence. Myxoid is the most common form of liposarcoma while pleomorphic is the least common form.

Symptoms & Complaints

In the early stages of liposarcoma, people do not have any noticeable symptoms or illnesses. This can pose a problem because a person who develops liposarcoma may not seek treatment until symptoms develop, which occurs late in the progression of the cancer.

A lump or swelling that may or may not be painful is the most common symptom, but this symptom can be confused with a common lipoma. A lipoma is a collection of benign fat cells under the skin, which does not develop into a liposarcoma, and there are no other symptoms that arise from a lipoma. Additional symptoms that happen with liposarcoma include:

Since liposarcoma can occur anywhere on the body, different body parts will exhibit unique symptoms. For instance, the limbs will have a decrease in the range of motion if they are affected, or a person may suffer from excessive coughing and breathlessness if their chest is affected. If a woman has liposarcoma in the uterus area, she may develop excessive vaginal bleeding and suffer from pain in the pelvis and lower abdominal areas.


Cancer researchers do not know what causes liposarcoma. People do not experience any symptoms early on after developing this form of cancer, so it can be difficult to trace any behavioral or environmental factors that may contribute to the development of this disease. Some people believe an injury may cause liposarcoma, but scientists have yet to make this connection.

Scientists have recognized several risk factors that make some people more likely to develop this type of cancer. Patients who are given radiation therapy to treat another cancer may develop this disease, but it may take up to ten years between the time the radiation therapy ends and the growth of a liposarcoma tumor.

A family history of cancer or genetic disorders like neurofibromatosis, Gardner's syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, retinoblastoma, and Werner syndrome can all be contributing factors in developing liposarcoma. A damaged lymphatic system and exposure to certain chemicals like vinyl chloride, dioxin, and herbicides that contain phenoxyacetic may also be contributing factors.

Diagnosis & Tests

If a person doesn’t have a family history of liposarcoma, then it’s not recommended that they go through any screening tests. If they develop an unexplained lump on their body and any unusual symptoms associated with that lump, then they should see their doctor as soon as possible.

For someone who has a family history of liposarcoma and other cancers, they may want to discuss genetic testing with their doctor. Genetic testing can reveal mutated or defective genes that can cause liposarcoma, so by having this information, a person can discuss options with their doctor about how they can best avoid getting this disease.

If a person already notices a lump or growth in their body, their doctor may recommend an X-ray to make sure it is liposarcoma and not lipoma or some other benign mass. This may be done in conjunction with a biopsy to see if the mass causing the lump is malignant. If the person has liposarcoma, their doctor may also do a CT scan of the chest because the chest is the most common area where liposarcoma metastasizes.

Treatment & Therapy

When a person develops liposarcoma or any other type of cancer, they are usually provided with a team of cancer specialists who will provide treatment. This team may consist of the following specialists:

  • Medical oncologist
  • Surgical oncologist
  • Radiation oncologist
  • Thoracic oncologist
  • Orthopedic surgeon
  • Physical therapist and nurses

There are several treatment options that the patient’s medical team may perform depending on the condition and location of the liposarcoma. Surgery may be performed to remove the tumor and some of the healthy tissue near the tumor to make sure all the cancer cells have been removed. If any cancerous cells are left over, then radiation therapy may be used to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Sometimes, radiation therapy is used before surgery to kill some of the cancerous cells to help make the surgery easier (a technique called neoadjuvant therapy). If the patient is in poor health, radiation therapy may be the primary method of removing the liposarcoma.

Chemotherapy can also be used as a primary method of treatment or in addition to surgery. Chemotherapy drugs can be taken orally or intravenously, and it’s useful in treating liposarcoma that has metastasized. Targeted therapy is another treatment that also involves the use of drugs, and it doesn’t damage healthy normal cells as much as chemotherapy drugs.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Preventing liposarcoma is difficult since this disease has no known cause, and anybody can develop this disease regardless of whether or not they have a family history of sarcomas. If a patient has been diagnosed and treated, there is a possibility the liposarcoma may return. However, if the patient can stay on top of their follow-up treatment, they can improve their chances of survival.

Once the liposarcoma has been treated and removed, it is important for the patient to continue to follow-up with their doctor, receive regular exams and X-rays, and continue with any other cancer treatments the doctor recommends.