Lipoma (Skin Lumps): Causes, Diagnosis and Treatments
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Lipoma (Skin Lumps)

Lipoma

What is a lipoma?

Highlights

  1. A lipoma is a harmless deposit of fat under the skin that’s typically found on the neck, back, or shoulders.
  2. A lipoma feels soft and isn’t painful, making it easier to diagnose than other skin problems.
  3. Lipomas are rarely harmful, but a dermatologist can remove them if they bother you.

A lipoma is a growth of fatty tissue that slowly develops under your skin. People of any age can develop a lipoma, but children rarely develop them. A lipoma can form on any part of the body, but they typically appear on the:

  • neck
  • shoulders
  • back
  • abdomen
  • arms
  • thighs

They’re classified as benign growths, or tumors, of fatty tissue. This means a lipoma isn’t cancerous and is rarely harmful.

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Treatment for a lipoma usually isn’t necessarily unless it’s bothering you.

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What are the symptoms of a lipoma?

Symptoms

There are many types of skin tumors, but a lipoma usually has distinct characteristics. If you suspect that you have a lipoma it will generally:

  • be soft to the touch
  • move easily if prodded with your finger
  • be just under the skin
  • be pale
  • be colorless
  • grow slowly

Lipomas are most commonly located in the neck, back, and shoulders, but they can also occur on the stomach, thighs, and arms. The lipoma is only painful if it grows into nerves underneath the skin.

You should call your doctor if you notice any changes in your skin. Lipomas can look very similar to a cancerous condition called liposarcoma.

What are the risk factors for developing a lipoma?

Risk Factors

The cause of lipomas is unknown. Your risk of developing this type of skin lump increases if you have a family history of lipomas.

This condition is most prevalent in adults between the ages of 40 and 60.

Certain conditions may also increase your risk of lipoma development. These include:

  • adiposis dolorosa (a rare disorder characterized by multiple, painful lipomas)
  • Cowden syndrome
  • Gardner’s syndrome
  • Madelung’s disease

How is a lipoma diagnosed?

Diagnosis

Doctors can often diagnose a lipoma by performing a physical exam. It feels soft and isn’t painful. Also, since it’s made up of fatty tissues, the lipoma moves easily when touched.

In some cases, a dermatologist might take a biopsy of the lipoma. During this procedure, they’ll scrape 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 look like a liposarcoma, which is malignant, or cancerous. Unlike lipomas, liposarcomas are painful and grow under the skin quickly.

Further testing using MRIs and CT scans are only required if a biopsy shows that a suspected lipoma is actually a liposarcoma.

How is a lipoma treated?

Treatment

A lipoma that’s left alone usually doesn’t cause any problems. However, your dermatologist can treat the lump if it bothers you. Your dermatologist will make the best treatment recommendation based on a variety 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

Surgery

The most common way to treat a lipoma is to remove it through surgery. This is especially helpful if you have a large skin tumor that’s still growing. Lipomas rarely grow back once they’re surgically removed.

Liposuction

Another treatment option is liposuction. Since lipomas are fat-based, this procedure can work well to reduce its size. Liposuction involves a needle attached to a large syringe, and the area is usually numbed before the procedure.

Steroid injections

Steroid injections may also be used right on the affected area. This treatment can shrink the lipoma, but it doesn’t completely remove it.

What is the outlook for someone with a lipoma?

Outlook

Lipomas are benign tumors. This means that there’s no chance that an existing lipoma will spread. 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. Ice and heat packs may work for other types of skin lumps, but they aren’t helpful for lipomas because they’re fat-based. See your doctor for treatment if you have any concerns about getting rid of a lipoma. 

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