Scientists do not yet know the cause of liposarcoma. Although patients sometimes notice a tumor after they experience an injury, liposarcoma is not known to be caused by trauma. It is also not known to develop from benign lipomas, which are harmless lumps of fat.
Most people with liposarcoma do not feel sick. They might notice a lump (which can be soft or firm to the touch) that is usually painless and slow growing. Unfortunately, tumors in the abdomen can grow to be quite large before they are found.
A physical exam is the first step in the liposarcoma diagnosis process. Lumps that are 5cm or larger and deep-seated, firm and fixed to underlying structures are usually considered suspicious. Imaging tests are the next step and often include an X-ray and an MRI. An experienced radiologist might suspect the diagnosis based on the results of these tests.
There are two main types of biopsy: a needle and a surgical biopsy. The location, incision and technical aspects of the biopsy can affect a patient’s treatment options and outcome. Therefore, it is essential that the biopsy is planned by a surgeon or radiologist experienced with sarcomas.
The results of the biopsy and imaging studies provide physicians with an idea of the “extent of spread,” or stage, of disease that can be used to create a treatment plan.
Surgery is the treatment for primary liposarcomas that have not yet spread to other organs. In most cases, a surgeon will remove the tumor, along with a wide margin of healthy tissue around the tumor, with the goal of leaving the area free of disease and preventing the tumor from returning. Most tumors of the arms and legs can be successfully removed while sparing the involved limb. Occasionally, in about 5% of cases, an amputation is the best way to completely remove the cancer and restore the patient to a functional life. Complete surgical removal of tumors within the abdomen is difficult, in part because of the difficulty in getting clear margins of normal tissue.
The combination of surgery and radiation therapy has been shown to prevent recurrence at the surgical site in about 85-90% of liposarcoma cases. These results vary depending on the subtype of sarcoma that is involved. Radiation therapy may be used before, during or after surgery to kill tumor cells and reduce the chance of the tumor returning in the same location. Radiation therapy that is given before surgery may be more beneficial, but it can also make it more difficult for surgical wounds to heal.
The role of chemotherapy in the treatment of liposarcoma is not clearly defined, but it may be recommended in certain situations where patients are at high risk of recurrence or already have widespread disease.
There are more than 50 subtypes of sarcoma, and there are two basic categories of sarcoma: soft tissue sarcoma and bone and joint sarcoma.
Soft tissue sarcomas make up less than 1% of all cancer cases. About 11,000 people are diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma in the United States each year.
Primary bone sarcomas make up less than 0.2% of all cancer cases. About 2,900 people are diagnosed with bone and joint sarcomas in the United States each year, and almost half of them are under the age of 35.