Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on September 26, 2023
4 min read

If you're diagnosed with liposarcoma, you have a form of cancer that starts in fat cells. It's a rare type of soft tissue sarcoma, cancers that start in soft tissues like muscle, nerves, tendon, or fat.

There are five types of liposarcoma:

Well-differentiated liposarcoma. It's the most common type, and it tends to grow slowly. It usually doesn't spread to other parts of your body.

Myxoid liposarcoma. This is the second most common type. It can grow faster than well-differentiated tumors, and it's more likely to spread to other parts of your body. Its cells can form a unique shape or pattern.

Round cell. This type can also grow faster than well-differentiated tumors and is often found in the arms or legs.

Dedifferentiated liposarcoma. You have this type when a slow-growing tumor starts to change to a faster-growing, more aggressive type.

Pleomorphic liposarcoma. It's a less-common form of the cancer and often spreads very quickly.

Liposarcoma can happen at any age, but it's most common between ages 50 and 65.

Doctors aren't sure exactly what causes liposarcoma. They do know these tumors form because of changes, called mutations, in the DNA of your fat cells. But it's not clear why that happens.  

A few things make you more likely to get liposarcoma: 

  • Some rare, genetic diseases
  • Radiation treatments you've had in the past, usually for another cancer
  • A family history of liposarcoma or other soft-tissue cancers

Liposarcoma can form in any part of your body that has fat cells. But it usually shows up in the fatty areas of the legs or belly.

You may find that your tumor is not sore or painful at first. But it will continue to grow and will eventually cause problems or start to hurt. For example, if the liposarcoma tumor forms somewhere in your belly, it may push against your stomach or other organs.

The symptoms of liposarcoma depend on where the tumor is on your body, but they include:

  • A new or growing lump beneath your skin, especially around or behind your knees or on your thighs
  • Pain or swelling
  • Weakness in an arm or leg that has the lump
  • Feeling full soon after you start eating
  • Constipation
  • Poop that has blood or looks black or tarry
  • Cramping
  • Bloody vomit
  • Your belly gets larger

Your doctor will examine you and ask about your symptoms. If liposarcoma is a possibility, they'll likely order a test, such as:

  • CT scan or MRI, which help your doctor see the size and scope of a tumor
  • Biopsy, which involves removing a small piece of your tumor to test it for cancer cells
  • Have you treated other people for this cancer?
  • What is the stage of my cancer?
  • What treatment do you recommend and why?
  • What side effects might this treatment cause?
  • Should I get a second opinion?
  • What is my outlook?
  • Where can I get support during treatment?

Your treatment options depend on where you have the tumor, how big it is, and the type. If possible, your doctor will try to remove the tumor with surgery. This is the most common treatment for liposarcoma.

If your tumor is growing near an important organ, or if there's something else that prevents your doctor from removing all of the cancer during surgery, you may need to have radiation or chemotherapy after an operation to kill any cancer cells that may be left behind.

In some cases, your doctor may suggest radiation or chemo to shrink the size of the tumor before surgery.

You can also ask your doctor about clinical trials for people with liposarcoma. These studies test new treatments to see if they're safe and if they work. Your doctor can let you know if you might be a good fit for one.

Liposarcoma and the treatments you get for it can have an impact on your body and your emotions. It's important to take care of both.

If you find that liposarcoma is making you feel worried and stressed, talk to your doctor. They can suggest a therapist or mental health counselor who can help you manage your emotions. Also reach out to family and friends for the backing you need.

Diet and exercise can help you feel better. Fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein will help build back your strength. Stay active if you can. Exercise eases fatigue, boosts your mood, and improves your self-esteem.

Some treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation, have side effects. Many of them will get better once your treatment ends.

A team of doctors, nurses, and other health pros will manage your care. They'll let you know what treatment plan to follow, what side effects to expect, and how to manage any problems that come up.  Ask questions if anything isn't clear.

Your doctor will tell you what to expect based on your type of liposarcoma, where it is in your body, and how healthy you are overall.

After you finish treatment, you'll continue to see your doctor to make sure your cancer hasn't come back. These follow-ups will ensure that if your cancer does return, you can catch it early.

No one knows what it's like to live with liposarcoma as well as someone who's had this cancer. That's where a support group can be a huge help. You'll meet other people who know just what you're going through.

You may be able to tell your support group things you don't feel comfortable talking to friends and family about. The group members can give you guidance on everyday things like handling work or treatment side effects.

You can find a support group through your hospital, an organization like the American Cancer Society, or online. Some support groups are for people with all types of cancer. Others focus only on sarcomas or liposarcoma.