A lipoma is a growth of fatty tissue or cells that slowly develops under your skin. People of any age can develop a lipoma, but children seldom develop them. A lipoma can form on any part of the body, but they usually appear on the:
They’re categorized as benign growths or tumors of fatty tissue. This means a lipoma isn’t cancerous and is hardly harmful. Treatment for a lipoma typically isn’t necessary unless it’s bothering you.
Symptoms of a lipoma
There are various types of skin tumors, but a lipoma normally has distinct characteristics. If you suspect that you have a lipoma it will usually:
- Be soft to the touch
- Move easily if poked with your finger
- Be just under the skin
- Be colorless
- Grow slowly
Lipomas are most commonly found in the neck, upper arms, thighs, forearms, but they can also occur on other areas like the stomach and back.
A lipoma is only painful if it compresses nerves beneath the skin. A variant known as angiolipoma is also more painful than regular lipomas. You should call your doctor if you notice any changes in your skin. Lipomas can look very similar to a rare cancer called a liposarcoma.
Risk factors for developing a lipoma
The cause of lipomas is generally unknown, although there may be a genetic cause in individuals with multiple lipomas. Your risk of developing this type of skin lump rises if you have a family history of lipomas.
This condition is most common in adults between the ages of forty and sixty. Certain conditions may also increase your risk of developing a lipoma. These include:
- Adiposis dolorosa
- Cowden syndrome
- Gardner’s syndrome
- Madelung’s disease
- Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome
How is a lipoma diagnosed?
Doctors can often diagnose a lipoma by carrying out a physical exam. It feels soft and isn’t painful. Also, since it’s made up of fatty tissues or cells, the lipoma moves easily when touched.
In certain cases, a dermatologist might take a biopsy of the lipoma. During this procedure, they’ll take a small portion of the tissue and send it to a lab for testing. This test is done to rule out the possibility of cancer. Although a lipoma isn’t cancerous, it can rarely mimic a liposarcoma, which is cancerous.
If your lipoma continues to enlarge and becomes painful, your doctor can take it out to relieve your discomfort as well as rule out liposarcoma. Further testing using MRI and CT scans may only be necessary if a biopsy shows that a suspected lipoma is actually a liposarcoma.
How is a lipoma treated?
A lipoma that’s left alone normally doesn’t cause any problems. However, a dermatologist can treat the lump if it bothers you. They will make the best treatment recommendation based on a number of factors including:
- The size of the lipoma
- The number of skin tumors you have
- Your personal history of skin cancer
- Your family history of skin cancer
- Whether the lipoma is painful
The most common or general way to treat a lipoma is to remove it through surgery. This is particularly helpful if you have a large skin tumor that’s still growing.
Lipomas can at times grow back even after they’re surgically removed. This procedure is usually done under local anesthesia through a procedure known as an excision.
Liposuction is another treatment option. Since lipomas are fat-based, this procedure can work well to decrease its size. Liposuction involves a needle attached to a large syringe, and the area is normally numbed before the procedure.
Steroid injections may also be used properly on the affected area. This treatment can shrink the lipoma, but it doesn’t totally remove it.
What’s the outlook for someone with a lipoma?
Lipomas are benign tumors. This means that there’s no chance that an existing lipoma will spread all over the body. The condition will not spread through muscles or any other surrounding tissues and it isn’t life-threatening.
A lipoma can’t be reduced with self-care. Warm compresses may work for other types of skin lumps but they aren’t helpful for lipomas because they’re made up of a collection of fat cells.
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