What are lipomas?

Because they are benign, many lipomas only need to be monitored and not removed.
Because they are benign, many lipomas only need to be monitored and not removed.

Lipomas are benign tumors of adipose, a fatty tissue cell. While they can occur in any organ, they most frequently appear in the subcutaneous layer, just below the skin. They are soft, mobile, and usually painless.

Lipomas grow slowly and often grow for years before they’re noticed. They most often appear in the shoulders, neck, back, or arms. People between the ages of 40 and 60 are most likely to develop lipomas, but others may produce them as well.

Because they are not cancerous, lipomas most often do not need treatment unless they affect your daily life.

Signs and symptoms of lipomas

Unless they are irritated or in a location that impedes function, most lipomas do not hurt.

Physically, lipomas are round and doughy masses that move under the skin when agitated. When in deeper tissue, they may grow larger and be less mobile when discovered.

Types of lipomas

Depending on their composition, your doctor may diagnose you with one of the following types of lipomas. All of the following terms refer to variants of lipoma:

  • Adenolipoma
  • Angiolipoma
  • Chondroid lipoma
  • Fibrolipoma
  • Myelolipoma
  • Myolipoma
  • Myxolipoma
  • Ossifying lipoma
  • Sclerotic lipoma

Lipomas that are particularly painful or tender are usually angiolipomas, one of the rarer forms of lipomas.

Causes of lipomas

Doctors have yet to determine what causes lipomas or how to prevent them. They occasionally run in families or result from injury. While they are made of fatty tissue, they are not directly caused by being overweight.

They occur more frequently in patients between 40-60 years old but can appear at any age.

A couple of medical disorders also make a person more likely to develop lipomas:

Dercum disease (adiposis dolorosa)

Anyone can experience Dercume disease, although it is most prominent in in obese and postmenopausal women. In addition to unusually painful lipomas, the condition causes generalized obesity, fatigue, and mental disturbances.

Proteus syndrome

A condition that causes overgrowth and asymmetry of bones, limbs, and skin, Proteus syndrome also causes fat overgrowth and lipomas.

When to see the doctor for lipomas

Whenever you find a lump, you should see a doctor as soon as possible in order to rule out more serious conditions and monitor any new growth.

Diagnosing lipomas

Your doctor will want to check out your lump in order to make sure that it isn’t a liposarcoma, an aggressive fatty tumor that is cancerous. They usually grow more quickly and are more painful than lipomas.

Most lipomas can be diagnosed by a physical examination and patient history. Doctors can identify them by feeling size, consistency, and mobility. If needed, they also may perform any of the following tests in order to get a better look at the lipoma or its material:

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Treatments for lipomas

Because they are benign, many lipomas only need to be monitored. You need to schedule regular visits to your doctor in order to check on any changes.

Even if the lipoma isn’t dangerous, you may wish to have a lipoma removed or reduced in size. Some people find their lipomas to be uncomfortable or dislike the physical appearance of the lipomas.

Surgical removal is the most complete treatment, but less invasive procedures have become more common in recent years. While these less invasive procedures do not remove the lipoma entirely, they can significantly reduce its size. Procedures include:

Excision

The most common and successful treatment is excision. During the excision procedure, your doctor will anaesthetize you and surgically remove the tumor, cutting the lipoma out. Lipomas rarely grow back, but if they do, you can again have them removed.

Steroid injections

Small lipomas can be treated with steroids injected into their center. Steroids cause the fat in the lipoma to atrophy. If needed, the injection can be repeated several times.

Liposuction

Liposuction can rarely eliminate the entire lipoma but can significantly reduce it. Some people prefer them in areas where scarring would be particularly visible.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/4/2021
References
American Academy of Family Physicians: "Lipomas."

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Lipoma."

American Family Physician: "Lipoma Excision."

American Family Physician: "What Are Lipomas?"

National Human Genome Research Institute: "About Dercum Disease."

StatPearls: "Lipoma Pathology"

US National Library of Medicine: Medline Plus: "Lipoma - arm."

US National Library of Medicine: Medline Plus: "Proteus Syndrome."