Liposarcoma: What Is It and How Is It Treated?

Liposarcoma belongs to a group of tumors broadly classified as ‘Sarcomas’.  These are malignant tumors that involve the bodies connective tissue; bone, muscle, fat, vessels, nerves, and fibrous tissue.  As a group, they are much less common than other forms of cancer such as carcinoma, melanoma, or leukemia.  Sarcomas represent roughly 1% of all cancer diagnoses made each year in the United States.  Approximately 10,000 new cases of soft tissue sarcoma (sarcomas not arising from bone or joints) occur annually in the U.S.  There are over 50 distinct subtypes of soft tissue sarcoma.

Liposarcoma is one of the most common subtypes of sarcoma accounting for 15% of soft tissue sarcomas. The term ‘lipo’ refers to adipose tissue or fat.  These tumors are termed liposarcoma because they demonstrate fatty tissue elements when viewed under the microscope.  The cause of these tumors is generally unknown.  Patients commonly wonder if benign fatty tumors (lipomas) can dedifferentiate or turn into the malignant form (liposarcoma).  While this phenomenon has been described, it is extremely rare and is seen most often with large, deep tumors located in the abdomen or pelvis.  Any soft tissue mass that grows rapidly in size, changes consistency, or becomes painful should be evaluated by someone familiar with this type of condition.  Evaluation may include a physical exam or advanced imaging studies such as CT or MRI.  The gold standard for diagnosing liposarcoma is with biopsy.  It is important to correctly establish the diagnosis before undergoing treatment (including removal) so that appropriate surgical and non-surgical therapies are considered.

Most patients diagnosed with liposarcoma will require surgical removal of the tumor.  Additionally, patients are often treated with radiation therapy to minimize the chances of tumor recurrence or spread.  Select patients may also be candidates for chemotherapy, depending on the subtype of liposarcoma, patient age and overall health, and evidence of tumor spread to other locations.  These treatments should be coordinated through a multi-disciplinary team of physicians with experience and expertise in treating this rare form of cancer so that patient outcomes are optimized and complications avoided.  Utilizing an appropriate multi-faceted approach to the treatment of liposarcoma, most patients with localized tumors are curable.

At Specialty Orthopedic Surgery, we have two physicians that specialize in the treatment of both bone and soft tissue sarcomas.  Dr. Judd Cummings and Dr. Matthew Seidel are experts in the surgical management of this rare condition, and are an integral part of the sarcoma treatment programs at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, the Virginia Piper Cancer Center, and The University of Arizona.  If you have a question about this condition or any other related problem, please arrange for a comprehensive evaluation.

Written by Dr. Judd Cummings

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