Despite the fact that he didn’t drink beer, Hector Hernandez thought he had a beer belly for a number of years. It wasn’t until his arms started thinning out and friends and family suggested he see a doctor that the 47-year-old discovered his bulging stomach was the result of a cancerous tumor, according to a University of Southern California (USC) press release.
More specifically, Hernandez was diagnosed with a retroperitoneal liposarcoma, a type of cancer that forms in a person’s fat cells, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“I was losing weight on my arms, face, everywhere but my stomach,” Hernandez told INSIDER. “And I was diabetic and had high blood pressure too.” In addition to dealing with health issues, Hernandez said he had trouble doing normal tasks like tying his shoes or putting his pants on.
Hernandez underwent surgery to remove the tumor
Liposarcomas can be removed a few different ways including chemotherapy, but the majority, including Hernandez’s, are surgically removed, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders. Hernandez’s tumor weighed 77 pounds and took six hours to remove, the USC press release noted.
With a tumor of that size, surgery complications can include excessive bleeding, infection, and organ failure, Dr. William Tseng, Hernandez’s surgeon and an internationally recognized sarcoma expert, told INSIDER. “Oftentimes, to get them out we have to remove adjacent organs, not just the tumor,” Tseng said.
For Hernandez, that meant also removing a kidney, but all cases are different, Tseng noted.
Liposarcomas can be difficult to detect on your own
Hernandez isn’t the first person to mistake an oversized mass when it was something more. In December of 2017, Kevin Daly found out he had a liposarcoma after he lost 34 pounds and his belly still remained, INSIDER previously reported.
In addition to being unable to lose belly mass, other signs of lipsarcomas include abdominal pain and swelling, feeling full sooner than usual when eating, constipation, and blood in the affected person’s stool, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“It’s important that patients be cognizant of early signs of illness such as fatigue, unexpected weight loss, chronic pain, lack of appetite, and definitely your body if you see something that’s asymmetrical or out of position,” Julio Teixeira, Daly’s surgeon, told INSIDER in a previous interview.
Read more: The 11 most common cancers in the US
In Daly’s case, it took a CAT scan for doctors to realize he had a tumor after other doctors attributed his big belly to decreased testosterone levels that come with age, INSIDER reported.
If you notice the previously mentioned symptoms, you should consult your health care provider immediately and vouch for your health. “Looking back, I wish I would’ve went sooner,” Hernandez told INSIDER. Now that the tumor has been removed, Hernandez said he is diabetes-free.
To help with surgery costs, Hernandez’s friend started a GoFundMe page where people can donate and offer words of encouragement post-surgery.
Follow-up appointments are critical, even if the liposarcoma was fully removed during surgery
Patients’ quality of life will increase immediately following removal of the tumor. But Tseng told INSIDER that it’s important to get regular CAT scans to make sure the growth doesn’t return.
“It has a high chance of coming back in the same location and then they can then become more aggressive and spread,” he explained.
To ensure your body stays healthy and liposarcoma-free, Tseng recommended patients schedule checkups every two to three months for the first two to three years after surgery. After that, checkups can occur every six months to a year.
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