Both lipoma (benign) and liposarcoma (malignant) form in fatty tissue
While both lipoma and liposarcoma form in fatty tissue and can cause lumps, the biggest difference between these two conditions is that lipoma is benign (noncancerous) and liposarcoma is malignant (cancerous).
What are lipomas?
Lipomas are noncancerous lumps that form in the fat cells just beneath the skin or in the soft tissues (muscles, fat, tendons and nerves). They are typically painless and move easily when touched. While lipomas can appear anywhere on the body, they are most commonly found on the arms, back, neck and shoulders.
Lipomas usually don’t require treatment and are often surgically removed because of aesthetic reasons. They are very common and appear most often in people between the ages of 40-60.
What are liposarcomas?
Liposarcomas or lipomatous tumors also form in the fat cells, but they are a type of soft tissue cancer. While they can be found in any part of the body, they are found most commonly in the abdomen, legs or arms.
Liposarcomas are typically painless and slow growing. Occasionally, they may grow very quickly and exert pressure on the surrounding tissue or organs. Treatment usually involves surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
What are symptoms of lipoma vs. liposarcoma?
Lipomas typically present the following symptoms:
- Soft, rubbery, painless lumps
- Move when touched
- Round or oval shaped
- May be single or multiple
Liposarcomas may not cause symptoms in many cases, except a painless lump. Symptoms of liposarcomas of the arms or legs are due to the tumor growing and compressing on the surrounding nerves, muscles or organs:
- You may have pain or swelling in the nearby area.
- The tumor may grow and ulcerate at the surface.
- You may feel tingling or numbness due to the tumor compressing a nerve.
Symptoms of an abdominal liposarcoma include:
What is the treatment for lipoma vs. liposarcoma?
Lipomas don’t cause any complications and usually don’t require treatment. They can be surgically removed if they are troublesome or if you want to do so for cosmetic reasons.
Rarely, lipomas may occur in organs such as the brain, requiring surgery. Lipoma excision surgery may be performed under local anesthesia or sedation and is a day care procedure. Liposuction can also remove lipomas.
Liposarcoma treatment depends on the extent and location of cancer. Treatment options may include:
- Surgery: Surgeons surgically remove the cancer along with the surrounding healthy tissue.
- Radiation therapy: Uses high doses of X-rays to reduce the risk of the tumor coming back after surgery.
- Chemotherapy: Uses anticancer drugs to kill the cancer cells.
What is the prognosis of liposarcomas?
Liposarcomas are usually curable. In some cases, doctors may amputate an affected part, or multiple surgeries may be required to remove the cancer completely.
Some people with liposarcomas may have to continue treatments, including chemotherapy or radiation, to prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body (metastasis).
After liposarcoma treatment, you should follow up with your doctor regularly for at least 10 years so that any signs of new tumor growth can be identified and treated right away.
Can liposarcomas be prevented?
Liposarcomas cannot be prevented, especially if you have a family history of cancer. Risk factors for liposarcomas include:
- Having a family history of cancer
- Exposure to radiation for treatment for other types of cancer
- Chronic exposure to certain chemicals such as vinyl chloride
You can reduce your risk of developing the condition by avoiding long-term exposure to radiation and toxic chemicals such as vinyl chloride.