What is a Pleomorphic Sarcoma?

D. Jeffress

A pleomorphic sarcoma is a type of malignant tumor that usually arises in fat or muscle tissue. Most tumors grow very slowly and do not cause physical symptoms until the cancer starts to spread to other body parts. A pleomorphic sarcoma is most likely to appear in one of the extremities, though it is possible for a tumor to develop in the torso or neck as well. When this type of sarcoma is detected in its early stages, a combination of surgery and radiation treatments are usually effective at eradicating cancer from the body.

Numbness of the legs may be a sign of a liposarcoma.
Numbness of the legs may be a sign of a liposarcoma.

There are several different types of pleomorphic sarcoma, classified by the types of tissue they affect and the nature of their onset. The two main groupings are liposarcomas, which are tumors arising in deep fat tissue, and malignant fibrous histiocytomas (MFH), masses that typically develop in skeletal muscle. Both types are most commonly seen in patients over the age of 50, and it is suspected that genetics is the most prominent risk factor for their development.

Diagnostic imaging scans may be used to diagnose a sarcoma.
Diagnostic imaging scans may be used to diagnose a sarcoma.

Liposarcomas are usually found in backs of the thighs or near the groin, though abdominal tumors are also fairly common. Over the course of several years, a mass can grow large enough to put pressure on nerves or the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms may include numbness in a leg, fatigue, abdominal pain, swelling, and nausea. Occasionally, a pleomorphic sarcoma can arise in subuctaneous fat tissue layers that are very close to the skin. Subcutaneous tumors may be visible and palpable as they grow, presenting as soft, painless nodules.

An ultrasound may be used to detect an abdominal tumor.
An ultrasound may be used to detect an abdominal tumor.

MFH is most likely to appear in an upper leg or arm. It tends to grow very slowly within deep muscle tissue near bones. Rarely, MFH can appear in soft tissue or epithelial linings around the kidneys, bladder, stomach, or heart. Depending on the location of the tumor, it may be possible to feel a hard mass underneath the skin. Symptoms of fatigue, nausea, and weight loss are common with advanced MFH.

Pleomorphic sarcoma is most commonly seen in patients over the age of 50.
Pleomorphic sarcoma is most commonly seen in patients over the age of 50.

Early detection and treatment are key in preventing these sarcomas from becoming serious health problems. A doctor can diagnose a sarcoma by physically examining an unusual mass and taking diagnostic imaging scans of the affected body part. Once a tumor is discovered, a biopsy is usually performed to see whether it is a benign growth or a cancerous mass. After confirming the diagnosis, additional tests are performed to determine if cancer is present anywhere else in the body.

The primary treatment for a pleomorphic sarcoma is surgery, whenever possible. A surgeon can attempt to excise the entire tumor before it starts to spread. If cancer persists after surgery, a series of radiation treatments can be administered. Chemotherapy is occasionally considered, but it has not proven to be as effective as radiation in ablating sarcomas.

Symptoms of liposarcomas may include nausea.
Symptoms of liposarcomas may include nausea.

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Discussion Comments


I have a pleomorphic sarcoma on upper anterior thigh it's approx 6x3 inches If anyone else has had the operation and removal please talk to me as I don't know if I will walk again or limp and I know a lot of muscle will be cut out, just need to educate myself a little bit more.


@billy and Belgium B.: Bel. B, you will be fine like me. I had a golf ball sized tumour and things have improved since I had it 17 years ago. It's such a worry, I know. Billy, what you have sounds very similar to mine, only smaller. You will most definitely be O.K., but again, I know it's an awful worry. Hope all will go well.


@billy: I'm so sorry about your diagnosis. I was diagnosed with this cancer in 2009. It was located in my foot and had to get it amputated at the age of 22. My life has struggles, but I'm happy to be alive. Please update on your progress and ask questions if you have any. God bless


I am B. from Belgium. I was diagnosed in April 2013 with a high grade and fast growing pleomorphic liposarcoma at the age of 32. The tumor had a diam. of 5cm and a height 3cm. and has been removed by R1 resection (torso/pectorlis maior). Afterward, I had radiotherapy. I just want to say: stay positive and be good!


@Billy: I had a similar tumour removed 17 years ago. It was the size of a golf ball on my shoulder and was high grade. It was there for about six months prior to surgery and then radiotherapy. My survival statistics were put at 20 to 30 percent, which in hindsight, given what I've since read, seems too low. I'm sure you will make it through this. Stay positive. Good luck.


My mum passed on as a result of this cancer. She was diagnosed In 2010. The whole of 2011 and 2012 she was in so much pain. It is a very bad type of cancer.


@Billy: I just looked at this article. Not sure how long ago your post was, but I had the same kind of tumor in my right arm.


My name is Billy. I am 51 years old and I was just told a week ago I have pleomorphic sarcoma. They found a tumor 1.5 cm on my shoulder. I would like to talk to anyone who has this cancer, please.


My dad passed away with this a year and a half ago. It's such a horrible type of cancer!

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