What is a lipoma?
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:
They’re classified as benign growths, or tumors, of fatty tissue. This means a lipoma isn’t cancerous and is rarely harmful.
Treatment for a lipoma usually isn’t necessary unless it’s bothering you.
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 colorless
- grow slowly
Lipomas are most commonly located in the neck, upper arms, thighs, forearms, but they can also occur on other areas such as the stomach and back.
A lipoma is only painful if it compresses nerves underneath the skin. A variant known as angiolipoma is also more often painful than regular lipomas.
You should call your healthcare provider if you notice any changes in your skin. Lipomas can look very similar to a rare cancer called a liposarcoma.
The cause of lipomas is largely unknown, although there may be a genetic cause in individuals with multiple lipomas, according to the Cleveland Clinic. 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, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Certain conditions may also increase your risk of lipoma development. These include:
Healthcare providers 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 sample 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 malignant, or cancerous.
If your lipoma continues to enlarge and becomes painful, your doctor can remove it to relieve your discomfort as well as rule out liposarcoma.
A lipoma that’s left alone usually 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 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
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 can sometimes grow back even after they’re surgically removed. This procedure is typically 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 reduce its size. Liposuction involves a needle attached to a large syringe, and the area is usually numbed before the procedure.
Steroid injections may also be used right on the affected area. This treatment can shrink the lipoma, but it doesn’t completely remove it.
Lipomas are benign tumors. This means that there’s no chance that an existing lipoma will spread throughout 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 a made up of a collection of fat cells.
See your healthcare provider for treatment if you have any concerns about getting rid of a lipoma.