Liposarcoma: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment


Liposarcoma is a relatively uncommon type of cancerous tumor that develops in fatty tissues. Usually, the cancer begins as an overgrowth of cells deep within the abdomen or around the muscles in the upper leg, behind the knee or in the upper arm. However, it can form in fat cells anywhere in the body. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 65.

For personalized, world-class liposarcoma treatment, many patients entrust their care to the multidisciplinary team at the Sarcoma Center of Excellence in Tampa General Hospital’s Cancer Institute. Accredited by the Commission on Cancer (CoC), TGH is a high-volume cancer center that has earned the prestigious “High Performing in Cancer” designation from U.S. News & World Report for 2023-24. This designation ranks us among the top 10% of hospitals in the nation.

Types of Liposarcoma

Liposarcoma is categorized based on two cellular characteristics: the appearance of the tumor cells when viewed under a microscope and how quickly those cells are growing. The types include:

Well-Differentiated Liposarcoma (WDLS)

The most common type of liposarcoma, WDLS accounts for approximately 50% of all diagnoses. These tumors are generally low-grade, which means the cancerous cells closely resemble normal fat cells and tend to grow slowly.

Myxoid Liposarcoma and Round-Cell Liposarcoma

Often found in the arm and leg, myxoid and round-cell liposarcoma tend to grow more quickly than well-differentiated liposarcoma.

Dedifferentiated Liposarcoma (DDLS)

A progression from WDLS, DDLS occurs when a previously slow-growing liposarcoma begins to grow and spread rapidly. These high-grade tumors usually originate deep within the abdomen.

Pleomorphic Liposarcoma

An exceedingly rare and fast-growing type of tumor, pleomorphic liposarcoma is usually found in the arm and leg. When viewed under a microscope, the cancerous cells look very different than normal fat cells.

Liposarcoma Causes

Like all forms of cancer, liposarcoma occurs when healthy cells undergo harmful changes that damage their DNA. The DNA then provides faulty instructions on when the cell should grow, replicate and die, leading to an accumulation of abnormal cells.

Although the triggers of the DNA changes that lead to the development of liposarcoma are not well understood, researchers have linked the condition to several risk factors, including:

  • Prior radiation therapy
  • Exposure to certain chemicals
  • A damaged lymphatic system

Liposarcoma Symptoms

The symptoms of liposarcoma can vary based on the location of the primary tumor. A soft tissue sarcoma in an arm or leg can cause:

  • A growing lump that can be felt under the skin
  • Localized pain and swelling
  • Weakness in the affected limb

A soft tissue sarcoma in the abdomen can cause:

  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • A feeling of fullness after eating only a small amount of food (satiety)
  • Constipation
  • Darkened or tarry stools

Liposarcoma Diagnosis

If liposarcoma is suspected, a physician will typically perform a physical examination and order a biopsy. The latter procedure involves removing a small sample of suspicious tissue — either surgically or via a needle and syringe — for microscopic evaluation by a pathologist. If the pathologist identifies cancerous cells in the sample, the physician may order follow-up imaging tests to assess the extent and spread of the cancer. These tests may include:

Liposarcoma Treatment

Common treatment options for liposarcoma include:


The goal of liposarcoma surgery is to remove the entire tumor without damaging any nearby organs. If the cancer has spread and invaded the surrounding tissues, its complete removal may not be possible, in which case other treatment approaches may be considered.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams, such as X-rays or protons, to destroy cancerous cells. In addition to being used as a standalone treatment, radiation therapy can be used before surgery to shrink a liposarcoma and make it easier to remove or after surgery to destroy any residual cancer cells and help prevent a recurrence.


After being administered intravenously or swallowed in pill form, powerful medications enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body to target and destroy widespread cancer cells. Like radiation therapy, chemotherapy can be used as a standalone treatment or before or after surgery for heightened treatment effectiveness. Because not all types of liposarcoma are sensitive to chemotherapy, testing must be completed beforehand to determine how the tumor may respond to the treatment.

Benefit From World-Class Care at TGH

The multidisciplinary team at TGH can provide a more comprehensive explanation of liposarcoma and help you explore your treatment options. If you would like to talk with an expert on our team, contact us at (813) 844-4151 to schedule an appointment.