by Bibianna Purgina, MD FRCPC
May 1, 2022
Well differentiated liposarcoma is a type of cancer made up of fat. It is part of a group of cancers called sarcomas. Well differentiated liposarcoma can start anywhere in the body but the most common location for this tumour is the abdomen. Another name for this tumour is an atypical lipomatous tumour.
The human body is made up of many different types of tissue. Fat is a specialized type of tissue that is found throughout the body. It is made up of large cells called adipocytes that look clear when viewed through a microscope. Fat acts as a storage site for energy and provides warmth for our internal organs. The medical term for fat is adipose tissue.
The diagnosis of a well differentiated liposarcoma is usually after a small sample of the tumour is removed in a procedure called a biopsy. The biopsy tissue is then sent to a pathologist who examines it under a microscope. The diagnosis can also be made after the entire tumour is removed as an excision or resection specimen.
When examined under the microscope, well differentiated liposarcoma can look like normal fat. However, unlike normal fat, well differentiated liposarcoma contains abnormal-looking cells fat cells, known as lipoblasts.
The microscopic appearance of well differentiated liposarcoma.
MDM2 is a gene that promotes cell division (the creation of new cells). Normal cells and those in non-cancerous tumours have two copies of the MDM2 gene. In contrast, well differentiated liposarcomas have more than two copies of the MDM2 gene.
A test called fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) is commonly used to count the number of MDM2 genes in a cell. An increased number of genes (more than two) is called amplification and supports the diagnosis of well differentiated liposarcoma.
Some well differentiated liposarcomas will change over time so that some of the cells no longer look like normal fat. This process is called dedifferentiation and these cancers are then called dedifferentiated liposarcoma. When compared to well differentiated liposarcoma, dedifferentiated liposarcoma is associated with a worse prognosis because it is more likely to grow back after surgery and spread to other parts of the body.
Pathologists divide well differentiated liposarcoma into three grades based on a system created by the French Federation of Cancer Centers Sarcoma Group (FNCLCC). This system uses three microscopic features to determine the tumour grade: differentiation, mitotic count, and necrosis. These features are explained in more detail below. The grade can only be determined after a sample of the tumour has been examined under the microscope.
Points (from 0 to 3) are assigned for each of the microscopic features (0 to 3) and the total number of points determines the final grade of the tumour. According to this system, well differentiated liposarcomas may be either low or high-grade tumours. High-grade tumours (grades 2 and 3) are associated with a worse prognosis.
Points associated with each grade:
Microscopic features used to determine the grade:
Tumour size is important because tumours less than 5 cm are less likely to spread to other parts of the body and are associated with a better prognosis. Tumour size is also used to determine the pathologic tumour stage (see Pathologic stage below).
Nerves are like long wires made up of groups of cells called neurons. Nerves are found all over the body and they are responsible for sending information (such as temperature, pressure, and pain) between your body and your brain. Perineural invasion is a term pathologists use to describe tumour cells attached to a nerve. Perineural invasion is important because tumour cells that have become attached to a nerve can grow along the nerve and into surrounding tissues. This increases the risk that the tumour will re-grow after treatment.
Blood moves around the body through long thin tubes called blood vessels. Another type of fluid called lymph which contains waste and immune cells moves around the body through lymphatic channels. The term lymphovascular invasion is used to describe tumour cells that are found inside a blood vessel or lymphatic channel. Lymphovascular invasion is important because once the tumour cells are inside a blood vessel or lymphatic channel they are able to metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body such as lymph nodes or the lungs.
A margin is any tissue that was cut by the surgeon to remove the tumour from your body. Depending on the type of surgery you have had, the margins can include bones, muscles, blood vessels, and nerves that were cut to remove the tumour from your body. Margins will only be described in your report after the entire tumour has been removed.
A negative margin means that no tumour cells were seen at any of the cut edges of tissue. A margin is called positive when there are tumour cells at the very edge of the cut tissue. A positive margin is associated with a higher risk that the tumour will recur in the same site after treatment.
Lymph nodes are small immune organs located throughout the body. Tumour cells can spread from the tumour to a lymph node through lymphatic channels located in and around the tumour (see Lymphovascular invasion above). The movement of tumour cells from the tumour to a lymph node is called lymph node metastasis.
Many cancers can spread to the lymph nodes, but well differentiated liposarcoma does this very rarely. If lymph nodes were part of the surgery to remove your tumour, your pathologist will assess them under the microscope and report whether they are involved by tumour.
The pathologic stage for well differentiated liposarcoma is based on the TNM staging system, an internationally recognized system originally created by the American Joint Committee on Cancer. This system uses information about the primary tumour (T), lymph nodes (N), and distant metastatic disease (M) to determine the complete pathologic stage (pTNM). Your pathologist will examine the tissue submitted and give each part a number. In general, a higher number means more advanced disease and a worse prognosis.
The tumour stage for well differentiated liposarcoma varies based on the body part involved. For example, a 5-centimetre tumour that starts in the neck will be given a different tumour stage than a tumour that starts deep in the back of the abdomen (the retroperitoneum). However, in most body sites, the tumour stage includes the tumour size and whether the tumour has grown into surrounding body parts.
Nodal stage (pN) for well differentiated liposarcoma
Well differentiated liposarcoma is given a nodal stage of 0 or 1 based on the presence of tumour cells in a lymph node. If no tumour cells are seen in any of the lymph nodes examined, the nodal stage is N0. If tumour cells are seen in any of the lymph nodes examined, the nodal stage becomes N1.
Well differentiated liposarcoma is given a metastatic stage of 0 or 1 based on the presence of tumour cells at a distant site in the body (for example the lungs). The metastatic stage can only be assigned if tissue from a distant site is submitted for pathological examination. Because this tissue is rarely present, the metastatic stage cannot be determined and is listed as MX.