Courtesy of medicalnet.com
A lipoma is a round, slow-growing benign tumor of fat that usually forms between the skin and the muscle below. More rarely, lipomas can be found inside or under the muscles. They can grow anywhere in the body where there are fat cells. They are most commonly found on the neck, shoulders, back, stomach, arms, and thighs.
Lipomas are harmless because they are not cancer. They are usually quite soft to the touch and are usually not tender. They are generally less than two inches tall, but they have the ability to grow. As they get larger, lipomas can sometimes become painful from putting pressure on nearby nerves.
How common are lipomas?
Lipomas are very common. We estimate that one in 1,000 people has a lipoma. That means there are millions of people walking around with lipomas!
Lipomas are most common between the ages of 40 and 60, but they can develop at any age. Some people only have one lipoma, but there are some rare diseases that cause multiple lipomas to form on the body. Many people have lipomas and don’t even notice them.
Why do people get lipomas?
The cause of lipomas is not fully understood. We believe that genetic factors play a role in their development, as lipomas tend to run in families. Because of this, it is impossible to prevent their formation.
How are lipomas diagnosed?
If you have a skin growth or a lump under the skin, the first thing to do is see your doctor, especially if you notice any changes such as: B. new pain or an increase in size.
A thorough physical exam is usually sufficient to diagnose most lipomas. In some cases, your doctor may recommend a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and to make sure the lipoma is not cancerous. During a biopsy, your doctor will numb your skin and remove a small piece of tissue from the lipoma, which will be sent to a laboratory for analysis under a microscope.
In cases where a physical exam is insufficient to clarify the diagnosis of a lump, your doctor may order an imaging test such as an ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. These tests can be useful in identifying the location of a lipoma, how deep it is, and whether it is pressing against important structures such as nerves.
What is the treatment for a lipoma?
Since most lipomas do not cause health problems, they often do not require treatment. However, lipomas won’t go away on their own. Home remedies found on the internet that claim to make lipomas go away don’t work!
Lipomas are surgically removed for cosmetic reasons, or if the lipoma is troublesome, continues to grow, or becomes painful.
If you’d like to have a lipoma removed, your GP will refer you to a plastic surgeon, dermatologist, or general surgeon. The surgical procedure is usually performed under local anesthesia by first numbing the skin and then cutting out the lipoma. People can go home the same day. In cases where a lipoma is very large or deeper and close to the muscle, general anesthesia may be recommended for surgery.
As an alternative to lipoma surgery, your surgeon may recommend liposuction to remove the lipoma. Liposuction uses a long thin cannula to remove the lipoma and it tends to leave smaller scars. In my experience, it makes sense with multiple lipomas to minimize the number of scars.
Lipomas rarely grow back after they’re removed, but a new one can grow elsewhere on your body. Possible side effects of the surgery are scars and bruises.
It is important to have lumps examined by your GP to make sure they are not cancer. Call your doctor immediately if you notice any changes. Warning signs that a lump could be cancer are rapid growth over a few weeks and new, sudden pain.
Dr. Valerie Lemaine, MD, MPH, is a senior board certified plastic surgeon in her own practice in Bloomington, MN. She received her MD from the University of Montreal, Canada and her MPH from Columbia University, NY, USA. She also completed a fellowship in reconstructive microsurgery at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Then Dr. Lemaine joined the prestigious Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN) where she taught, practiced and published clinical research. In 2018 she moved to a private practice and moved to Plastic Surgery Consultants and Minnesota Oncology.