A lipoma is a lump under the skin that occurs due to an overgrowth of fat cells. Doctors consider lipomas to be benigntumors, which means that they are non-cancerous growths
Lipomas can occur anywhere on the body where fat cells are present, but they tend to appear on the shoulders, chest,trunk, neck, thighs, and armpits. In less common cases, they may also form in internal organs, bones, or muscles.
Lipomas feel soft and may move slightly under the skin when people press down on them. They usually grow slowly over a period of months or years and typically reach a size of around 2–3 centimeters (cm). Occasionally, people have giant lipomas, which can grow to more than 10 cm.
Doctors do not fully understand what causes a lipoma.
Some people inherit a faulty gene from their parents that can cause one or more lipomas. This is rare and is known as familial multiple lipomatosis.
Lipomas can occur more frequently in people with specific medical conditions, such as:
- Gardner’s syndrome
- Cowden syndrome
- Madelung’s disease
- adiposis dolorosa
A person with a lipoma will typically feel a soft, oval-shaped lump just beneath the skin. Lipomas are usually painless unless they affect joints, organs, nerves, or blood vessels. In most cases, they do not cause other symptoms
A person with a lipoma that occurs deeper under the skin may not be able to see or feel it. However, a deep lipoma may place pressure on internal organs or nerves and cause associated symptoms.
When is removal necessary?
Lipomas are usually harmless, so most people do not need to have surgery to remove them. People may want to remove a lipoma that:
- is cancerous
- is large or growing quickly
- causes bothersome symptoms, such as pain and discomfort
- interferes with normal body functions
- causes distress for cosmetic reasons
- the doctor is unable to confirm is a lipoma rather than another type of tumor
A doctor can often remove a lipoma surgically. One method is to make a small cut in the skin and then squeeze out the lipoma. The person is usually under local anesthesia during the procedure and should be able to return home on the same day.
A doctor may need to make a more significant incision to remove larger lipomas entirely. It is also possible to remove some lipomas using liposuction. To do this, the doctor will need to cut into the lump and insert a thin, hollow tube through the incision. They will then use the tube to suck the mass of fat cells out of the body.