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What is Liposarcoma?

Liposarcomas are a type of cancerous tumor that can be found in and on birds on the rare occasion.  It may first appear as a lump or mass and similar to that of a lipoma type growth.  If your bird ever develops any type of mass, you should have it evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible.  She will need to perform diagnostic tests on the mass in order to determine what exactly it is.  If it is a liposarcoma, there are few treatment options with a guarded prognosis of recovery.

A liposarcoma in a bird can develop anywhere on his body and at any life stage.  If you feel a lump or mass somewhere on your bird’s body, you should take him to his veterinarian for further evaluation.

Symptoms of Liposarcoma in Birds

  • Swelling
  • Hematoma development possible 
  • Mass which is firm or soft, maneuverable or not, lobulated or not and can be found anywhere on the body, including the beak


There are multiple types of tumors birds can develop; liposarcomas are a rare find in birds but they have been reported.  The difference between a liposarcoma and benign lipoma is based on the appearance of the adipocytes.  In liposarcomas, the cells appear in dense groups varying in size and amounts of intracytoplasmic lipid vacuoles and pleomorphic adipocytes.  The external appearance of the two growths is similar so evaluation of the cytologic appearance is important for diagnosis.



Causes of Liposarcoma in Birds

Liposarcomas can appear anywhere on the skin or uropygial gland.  Genetics play a large role in the development of cancer, especially if inbreeding may be an issue leading to a closed gene pool.  Tumors have been noted in captive birds more than wild birds so it suggests this may be an issue.  The environment can also play a role in your bird’s health.  If he gets exposed to carcinogens, it can lead to development of abnormal cells and therefore possible tumors.



Diagnosis of Liposarcoma in Birds

Your veterinarian will start by performing a complete physical exam on your bird.  She will want to check his overall appearance, evaluate his body condition, and look for any other issues he may be experiencing in addition to the liposarcoma.  She will then want to collect some blood to run lab work.  

She will want to run a complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel as a part of her diagnostics.  If the blood work shows non-regenerative anemia, then your bird is losing blood somehow and his body cannot make more red blood cells to keep up with the demand.  If the lab work indicates leukocytosis, it could indicate your bird is experiencing a secondary infection or tumor necrosis.  If the lab work indicates leucopenia, he is experiencing immunosuppression.  The lab work can also indicate if there are issues with the hepatic or renal systems. Your veterinarian may also want to run some serologic tests to rule out other possible causes of your bird’s symptoms.

The veterinarian may also want to employ imaging as a part of her diagnostic process.  Different forms of imaging can diagnose the mass, stage the level of development it is at, check for metastasis, the extent of the tumor, and the ease or difficulty of surgical removal.  Radiographs can indicate a lot of these things but specialized imaging can also be of use.  Ultrasound can check if there is effusion around the mass or in other parts of your bird.  It can also take a look at his organ systems to see if any are affected and if so, how.  Computed tomography (CT) can be utilized to check his lungs and bones for any signs of metastasis.  If you combine CT imaging with injectable IV contrast, it can show you even more about the mass and the extent of it.

Another option would be for the veterinarian to perform a fine needle aspirate (FNA).  She sticks a needle into the mass multiple times in multiple angles to collect a sample of cells.  She then looks at the sample under the microscope to see if any are cancerous.  The downside of an FNA is that a negative result is not definitive.  This means if the sample did not produce any cancerous cells, it does not mean it is not in fact cancer.  The sample size collected is so small the results can be inconclusive.  The best way and only way to give a one hundred percent diagnosis would involve biopsy of the mass.  The veterinarian will remove the mass and perform diagnostics on the mass itself to check for indications of cancer.



Treatment of Liposarcoma in Birds

When it comes to your treatment options, there are only a few.  Just like in human medicine, you can employ chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and immunotherapy treatments to try and reduce the size of the mass or get rid of it all together.  Of course, there is surgical removal of the mass as well.  In some cases, you may need to do both surgical removal and then some form of oncological treatment in order to kill all of the cancer cells entirely.

If surgery is not the option for you, you can also do supportive and supplemental treatment.  While it will not cure your bird, it can offer him relief from any pain or symptoms and keep him comfortable as he lives out his life.  Your veterinarian can prescribe opioid medications or NSAIDS as she sees fit.  She can also administer fluids if needed or give local blocks of anesthesia if he is experiencing pain in one specific area.  If the mass is on or near his lungs, he may need oxygen therapy which the veterinarian can also provide.  If secondary issues develop, such as infection, she can provide antibiotics to rid him of his infection.



Recovery of Liposarcoma in Birds

If your bird is diagnosed with a liposarcoma, chance of recovery is very guarded to poor.  While you can remove the mass surgically, there is no guarantee it will not return or that the margins will be clean.  The size and aggressiveness of the growth will also affect the prognosis.  If you are able to catch the mass early and can remove it immediately, prognosis is fair.



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