Rob Ford Diagnosed with a Rare Cancer

As we reported last week, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been hospitalized with an abdominal mass. Doctors today reported that the mass is a rare cancer called a pleomorphic liposarcoma. Dr. Zane Cohen, the head of Ford’s medical team says the malignant abdominal tumor, which was about 5″ x 5″ (12 cm x 12 cm) in size “has not spread to any organs.” However a second mass was found in his left thigh. As the tumor tends to be “fairly aggressive,” the mayor will initially be treated with chemotherapy. It is not known whether he will also have to undergo surgery or radiation therapy.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, expressed his best wishes to Mr. Ford:

“Those who know Rob, know that he never backs down from a tough fight. Like every challenges he takes on, I know he will fight until he wins. I encourage all Torontonians to wish Rob well as he faces this challenge in the days and weeks ahead.”

Ford had already withdrawn from the upcoming mayoral race, however his brother, Doug Ford, is running in his place.

What is a liposarcoma?

Liposarcoma is one form of adult soft tissue sarcoma, which is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the soft tissues of the body.

Common-sites-of-soft-tissue-sarcomasThe soft tissues of the body include the muscles, tendons (bands of fiber that connect muscles to bones), fat, blood vessels, lymph vessels, nerves, and tissues around joints. Adult soft tissue sarcomas can form almost anywhere in the body, but are most common in the head, neck, arms, legs, trunk, and abdomen.

There are many types of soft tissue sarcoma. The cells of each type of sarcoma look different under a microscope, based on the type of soft tissue in which the cancer began. A liposarcoma originates in fat tissue.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be 12,020 new cases and 4,740 deaths from soft tissue sarcoma in the United States in 2014.

What are the symptoms of a soft tissue sarcoma?

A sign of adult soft tissue sarcoma is a lump or swelling in soft tissue of the body.

A sarcoma may appear as a painless lump under the skin, often on an arm or a leg. Sarcomas that begin in the abdomen may not cause signs or symptoms until they get very big. As the sarcoma grows bigger and presses on nearby organs, nerves, muscles, or blood vessels, signs and symptoms may include pain or trouble breathing.

The diagnosis is made by taking a biopsy of the suspicious tissue.

How are soft tissue sarcomas treated?

The treatment options and prognosis (chance of recovery) depend on the following:

  • The type of soft tissue sarcoma.
  • The size, grade, and stage of the tumor.
  • How fast the cancer cells are growing and dividing.
  • Where the tumor is in the body.
  • Whether all of the tumor is removed by surgery.
  • The patient’s age and general health.
  • Whether the cancer has recurred (come back).

After adult soft tissue sarcoma has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the soft tissue or to other parts of the body.

The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the soft tissue or to other parts of the body is called staging. Staging of soft tissue sarcoma is also based on the grade and size of the tumor, whether it is superficial (close to the skin’s surface) or deep, and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

Three types of standard treatment are used:


Surgery is the most common treatment for adult soft tissue sarcoma. For some soft-tissue sarcomas, removal of the tumor in surgery may be the only treatment needed.

Radiation therapy:

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.


Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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