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Barbara Bergin, MD and blog writer, Texas Orthopedics, Sports & Rehabilitation Associates
Just imagine you woke up one morning to find a soft mass of fatty tissue bulging out from under your skin’s surface. This growth is not painful. In fact, it has been growing slowly and steadily over a period of time. Could it be a cancerous growth? That is not necessarily so. This fatty growth is often a lipoma.
A lipoma may not look very attractive, especially when it is bulging out from an exposed portion of your body. Nevertheless, it is rarely going to cause you any discomfort. You are also not going to see it swollen, inflamed, or tender. That said, having a growth appear on your body can be frightening. Here's everything you need to know about these growths and how to manage them.
Frequently Asked Questions About Lipoma
- What is lipoma/Adiposis dolorosa?
- What are the different types of lipoma?
- Are lipomas cancerous?
- What causes these growths?
- Who is most at risk of developing these growths?
- What are the symptoms of a lipoma?
- Where can lipomas develop?
- How are they diagnosed?
- How are they classified by pain & growth area?
- If the growth is harmless, then why should I get it removed?
- What do you do when you find one?
- How are lipomas treated?
- How long is the recovery after treatment?
It can be scary to see these growths develop, and the more questions you ask about them, the better you will feel. Let's take a detailed look at the most frequently asked questions about lipomas.
1. What Is a Lipoma/Adiposis Dolorosa?
Sometimes a lipoma may grow so much that it starts to press on your nerves. This can be painful, and that means that you need to see a doctor to get it removed as soon as possible. This means that they are deep-seated. Your doctor is going to prescribe the best treatment, perhaps even surgical removal, to make sure that there is no possible or future damage to the nervous system in that particular area.
This is a rare condition and is five times more common in middle-aged women than in men. These painful lipomas are normally situated on your body, shoulders, arms, and legs. After he has tested the tissue and possibly done a biopsy to check whether it is cancerous or noncancerous, your doctor is going to recommend the best treatment — surgery should be the very last resort.
Now that you know more about Lipomas and the possible reason for their appearance on your body, get them checked by a doctor right now!
2. What Are the Different Types of Lipoma?
The medical and scientific research fraternity recognizes and treats these Lipoma conditions given below.
- Angio or Underlying Lipoma: This is a very common type and is deep-rooted. It is a painful condition because of the unchecked growth of the tumorous fatty tissue in the forearms or feet of young adults.
- Lumbosacral: This type usually appears on the back of infants. However, it can also affect adults.
- Diffuse Lipomatosis: This very rare type of growth normally affects babies up to the age of two. They may be superficial or they may be deep-seated — covering the body extensively in multiple lumps.
- Hibernoma: This is a lumpy type of brown fatty tissue.
- Angiolipoleiomyoma: This rare type of Lipoma is normally found in muscle cells, blood vessels, connective tissue, and fatty tissue.
- Intradermal Spindle Cell Lipoma: This is commonly found in women, growing on the back, shoulders, and neck region.
- Pleomorphic or Fatty Lipoma: This is a common type of Lipoma normally found in the elderly. One of the side effects of this Lipoma is joint pain.
- Neural Fibro: This Lipoma exerts pressure on nerves, due to its growth. This gives rise to the condition Adiposis dolorosa.
- Chondroid: Deep seated Lipoma is quite common in women. Here, this yellow colored fatty tumor grows on the lower extremities of your body or on the neck.
- Spindle Cell: This Lipoma type is more common in middle-aged men between 45 and 64 years of age—especially those who are genetically prone to Lipoma and drink more alcohol. It grows on the neck, back, and shoulders.
These are the usual types that can be found. Other similar conditions can include lipomatosis and benign symmetric lipomatosis.
3. Are Lipomas Cancerous?
By definition, lipomas are benign. This means that they are not cancerous and do not threaten one's health. If you suspect a growth on your body is a lipoma, it is still wise to get it checked out by a professional. Seeing a professional will give you a full diagnosis on the exact condition and will help to put your mind at ease.
As with any mass, especially one which appears suddenly, you should always watch for rapid growth. Lipomas usually grow very slowly, or not at all. Rapid growth and infiltration of surrounding tissues could be an indication of something more ominous, like a liposarcoma. However, in my entire career, I have never seen something that looks like a lipoma, but turns out to be a liposarcoma, and I have seen and excised many lipomas.
— Barbara Bergin, MD and blog writer (Texas Orthopedics, Sports & Rehabilitation Associates)
4. What Causes Lipomas?
Also known as Adiposis dolorosa, this condition is marked by the growth of lipomas. Familial multiple lipomatosis is a hereditary condition that causes multiple lipomas to form. Since this condition is hereditary, it's still up for debate as to how these genes function and why these genes have persisted.
Lipomas are gene linked. That is why if you have family members who are genetically prone to them, there is more chance of your developing these soft lumpy and spongy, rounded tissue growths, during your lifetime. These chances increase as you grow older — they are rarely found in babies or children, unless of course, they are genetically prone to this condition.
5. Who Is Most at Risk of Developing These Growths?
Lipomas are very common. They occur in approximately 1 out of 100 people. While anyone can develop lipomas, there are still risk factors that determine a higher probability of their development. Even though lipomas are comprised of fatty tissue, obesity is not a risk factor. Any body type can get them.
Risk factors of lipomas include:
- People between the ages of 40 to 60 show a higher tendency to develop lipomas.
- Family history of these growths increases the likelihood that a patient will develop them.
- Several other conditions can produce lipomas, including adiposis dolorosa, Cowden syndrome, Madelung disease, and Gardner’s syndrome.
6. What Are the Symptoms of a Lipoma?
These fatty tumors, which are directly under the skin, are not difficult to identify. However, as with any unusual growth, it's important to seek the care of a professional. Many people worry about potential cancers, so it's best to ask a doctor about them. These symptoms and characteristics can help patients determine the likelihood that their growth is non-cancerous
Lipoma symptoms and characteristics:
- They are usually located directly under the skin.
- They occur most commonly in the neck, shoulders, back, abdomen, arms, and thighs.
- They grow very slowly.
- They feel doughy and soft.
- They move easily when touched.
- They are typically small, no more than two inches in diameter. Nevertheless, they can grow to larger sizes.
- Lipomas are usually not painful, that is, unless they press against a nerve or contain blood vessels.
7. Where Can Lipomas Develop?
Lipomas can occur almost anywhere in the body. Often, they are located directly under the skin. You normally find these soft fatty masses in areas which are prone to cellulite. That is why you are going to find them underneath your elbows, at the back of your thighs, neck, arms, and back.
You can find these growths between the outer skin layer and the inner tissue. All organs and parts of your body are vulnerable to them. Yes, they are tumors, but they are benign. That means that they are not going to turn out to be cancerous.
You may also find a Lipoma growing in tissue, which has been healed after an injury. Scientists are still trying to analyze the reason for their formation. The genetic link has been proven because people who are prone to lipomas (due to genetic inheritance) have been afflicted by one at one point or the other in their lives.
8. How Are Lipomas Diagnosed?
A determatologist or qualified doctor is often able to diagnose a lipoma by simply feeling it. However, this is not always 100% accurate, and further diagnostic tools may be used, including:
- A biopsy, or tissue sample, may be done to determine the exact nature of the growth. Once a tiny sample is removed with the use of a needle, it is examined in a lab.
- Imaging tests may be used if the growth is larger than the average lipoma, or if it has unusual features or is deeper than the fatty tissue beneath the skin. These tests may include a CT scan, MRI or ultrasound, depending on what your doctor thinks is best.
9. How Are They Classified by Pain & Growth Area?
Painful Lipoma: Normally they are considered to be painless, but sometimes you may find that soft fleshy growth to be rather painful. That is because it has begun to press against your nerves, causing a condition which is known as Adiposis Dolorosa. Your surgeon is going to recommend immediate surgical removal of this painful mass, so that you do not face any more danger to the nerves.
Also, if they are painful, it means that there is a chance that benign tissue is changing its bio-physiological aspect and condition and may possibly turn cancerous. Therefore, immediate medical attention is needed if your Lipoma turns painful.
Nonpainful Lipoma: This is most common because they are soft and lumpy benign fatty growths which are present beneath the surface of the skin. You may want to go in for a surgical removal only if you find the nonpainful Lipoma to be very unsightly.
Fatty lumps: A Lipoma is basically a fatty lump which you can feel under your skin. It is normally made up of fatty tissue. It is not painful because it is a benign tumor. It takes a long time to grow and many people notice one only when they see this it bulging out somewhere on their arms, back, shoulders and legs. You may just feel one fatty lump or you may feel a number of lumps together. This tissue is spongy in texture. Women are more prone to these fatty lumps because they begin to put on weight when they reach middle age. So you may see these unsightly amassments in places where there are deposits of cellulite.
Face: Facial Lipomas are rather rare, but it has been known to occur. You may find a painless tumor growing on some parts of your face and soon this lump, which is fatty, soft, and spongy in texture, may start to look really visible. They are definitely not good to look at and that is why it is necessary that you meet your doctor as soon as possible and ask for the best treatment. He may recommend a steroid treatment to reduce the facial Lipoma, but as that takes a long time to show positive results, you would be better off with a surgical removal.
During this surgical procedure, which is normally done under local anesthesia, expert doctors do not cause any sort of major scarring. It will be small, but unsightly. When it is removed, it is going to look like a mass of yellow chicken fat.
Breast: These noncancerous fatty fleshy growths growing under the surface of the skin on your breasts may be hereditary, or they may have been caused due to some trauma to the breast tissue. Lipomas are tumors and they need to be checked by a doctor who is then going to prescribe the best possible treatment, especially when you find that they are causing you discomfort.
Breast Lipomas normally occur when fatty cells start to proliferate at an abnormal rate, causing a soft lumpy mass of tissue. This is painless and keeps moving around under the surface of the skin. Women are more prone to them, especially if they are genetically predisposed. The size of a breast Lipoma can be anywhere between 1-4 centimeters in diameter. Regular monitoring needs to be done to check its growth and condition.
Arms and Legs: These locations are more common, especially Chondroid Lipomas which can be seen on the legs of women. These are firm and yellow lumps and are deep-seated. Lipomas normally begin to form between your outer skin [epidermis] and your muscles. They take a long while to grow, and that is why visible signs of Lipomas on the arms and legs begin to show up visibly — as the tumor grows in about a year’s time.
Any sort of tumor, even if it is a benign tumor and is painless, needs medical treatment. As Chondroid Lipomas on the legs are deep-seated, your doctor is going to recommend surgical procedures for removal. However, they have been known to recur again even after surgical treatment. That was because your doctor may not have removed the tumor completely. Steroid treatments also reduce the fat mass, but do not destroy it or remove it from the roots.
Belly: Looking for lumps on one’s breast region is one of the usual self-check health procedures done by health-conscious women at home. This is to check whether there is any sort of cancerous growth on the breasts. Cancerous tissue is normally going to show up as hard lumps which need to be checked and tested in the laboratory. In the same manner, Lipomas are also slow growing, painless and soft, spongy tumors, which can grow anywhere on your body, including on your belly. Just palpitate this mass with your fingers. You can feel this moving pulpy mass as just one lump or a number of lumps, anywhere between 1 to 3 centimeters in size.
A belly Lipoma is going to protrude from under the surface of your skin. It is normally going to be found in areas where there are fatty deposits already present, especially around the waist or in the chest region. Surgical removal is recommended for getting rid of these unsightly belly growths.
Intramuscular: These types normally grow inside the muscle tissue. This is fatty tissue, which grows inside the muscles in the legs, head, neck, shoulder region, and body of adults. As this is not a life-threatening condition, doctors cannot normally recommend surgical removal unless it begins to grow really fast, or is the cause of Adiposis Dolorosa. Also, intramuscular Lipoma surgery is a very intricate procedure, because this fatty deposit is deep-seated and connected to the muscles. A doctor does not want to take the chance of cutting through muscles which may not grow again.
Intramuscular lipomas normally affect men in the 30 to 60 age group. The large muscles of the legs are the most commonly affected portions of the body during this condition.
Intermuscular: These grow between a group of muscles and can be removed easily through surgical procedures. The recovery time of the patient after such surgical procedures is anywhere between 1 to 3 days, depending on the size and location of the inter-muscular Lipoma. There is also the possible side effect of the tumor growth recurring again because of incomplete removal of the Lipoma does happen in one percent of the cases.
Colon: A Lipoma growth can occur anywhere on your body, especially if you are genetically prone to it. That means it has been known to occur on the colon and even on other internal organs of the body. Usually, these are asymptomatic and may be found just by chance during a colonoscopy or during a surgical procedure. They have a higher occurrence in women, especially women in their 60s. When growths occur in the colon they are benign fatty tumors, which can be anywhere between some millimeters to 40 centimeters in size. When suffering from Colon Lipomas, some patients may feel vague symptoms like stomach pain and a change in normal bowel habits.
They are diagnosed with the help of Endoscopic Ultrasound [EUS] and doctors may remove them by endoscopic surgical procedures. In this particular region, they may cause gastrointestinal bleeding and obstruction in the digestive tract. The bleeding is caused due to ulceration. Even though this tumor is a benign mass, it is considered to be malignant, because of its position and location.
Lipoma in Dogs: Did you know that Lipoma is not restricted to just human beings? Dogs can also suffer from this condition. If your dog is overweight and does not enjoy much exercise there is a chance that he is going to suffer from one, especially as they grow older. Nevertheless, many dog owners get really anxious whenever they see this soft fatty tumor showing up on their well-loved pets.
You do not need to worry unless your dog is suffering from any discomfort. It is only in such cases that the vet is going to recommend it be removed. Remember that any sort of tumor growth is not a healthy sign in humans or in canines. So, if you see a possible Lipoma on your old dog, contact the vet immediately so that he can diagnose the condition.
If a person doesn't like the way they look, or if the lipoma rubs up against articles of clothing, like a shoe, then they can be removed. There is a condition called lipoma dolorosa, in which people experience pain in the lipomas. But they are still benign.
— Barbara Bergin, MD and blog writer (Texas Orthopedics, Sports & Rehabilitation Associates)
10. If the Growth Is harmless, then Why Should I Get It Removed?
Patients have their lipomas removed for many reasons. Especially in patients with multiple lipomas in visible places, removal is necessary for cosmetic reasons. In other patients, lipomas can become large enough to pose a physical burden.
Other reasons for lipoma removal include:
- Painful or tender to the touch
- Inflamed or infected
- Draining foul-smelling discharge
- Increasing in size
- Simply put, a preference for not having an unusual growth in one’s body, despite the fact that the lipoma is neither visible nor painful.
11. What Do You Do When You Find One?
Lipomas normally do not have side effects like pain and discomfort, but it is always a sensible option to talk to your doctor, whenever you see any sort of tissue growth on your body. It is better to be reassured that this is benign tissue created out of fatty cells. They very rarely grow into cancerous tissue.
Nevertheless, you need to get these checked, in order to find out the type of the tumor growth. Your doctor will monitor its growth and suggest the best treatment suitable for your particular case.
Women are more prone to suffer from Lipomas, especially when they are in their 30s and 40s.
Lipomas can either be superficial or they can be deep-seated. If they are deep-seated, they may be difficult to remove surgically, because they are going to be attached to muscular tissue.
12. How Are Lipomas Treated?
For patients seeking removal of their lipomas, there are a number of treatment options:
- Steroid injections: These injections can be used to reduce the size of lipomas, but it rarely eliminates them completely.
- Liposuction: Because lipomas are made of fatty tissue, liposuction is a way to get rid of most of their mass. Like steroid injections, liposuction may not remove the entirety of the lipoma.
- Surgical removal of the lipoma: By far the most effective treatment is surgical removal of the lipoma. This is a brief outpatient procedure that is typically performed with local anesthetic. Because lipomas are directly beneath the skin, the incision is not deep and leaves a thin scar. Further, the doctors at the Lipoma Center Los Angeles are trained in plastic surgery techniques, giving them the ability to minimize your scar even more. Surgical removal of lipomas is short, generally lasting less than an hour. Patients can go home shortly after the surgery.
13. How Long Is the Recovery After Lipoma Treatment?
Because lipomas are generally located on the surface of the body, surgical removal does not cause very much trauma to the body. This means that recovery is very rapid, with patients going home the same day as their surgery. Further, patients can generally resume daily activities the very next day.
Common Lumps on and Under the Skin
Moles, or naevi, are the most common skin lesions. They are formed by a cluster of melanocytes, the skin’s pigment-producing cells.
Seborrhoeic keratoses, sometimes inelegantly called senile warts or barnacles, are another common benign skin lesion. These are considered part of the normal skin ageing process.
A cyst is a round lesion made of a capsule filled with keratin (the structural material that makes up the outer layer of our skin), sebum (the oil from our skin), fluid or pus-like material. Firm or squishy to the touch, they are totally benign. At least 20% of adults will have a cyst of some sort in their life.
Haemangiomas are another benign, usually painless skin lesion, formed from an excessive growth of blood vessels in the skin. They are usually firm lumps and can present as cherry angiomas, venous lakes or spider angiomas. Depending on how deep in the skin they are, they can be red, purple or even deep blue.
Dermatofibromas are firm small nodules, which are sometimes itchy and might be mistaken for an insect bite. In fact, most probably they also evolve from some types of insect bites.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Joyce??? on October 25, 2016:
I have lipomas on thighs and abdomen, many of them. I have had them checked by 3 different Drs. Including a surgeon. They all have said, "yes they are lipomas." I have has 4 removed and biopsied, lipomas. More have grown and some returned. My drs. seem to leave it as "lipomas". None have suggested a treatment to resist growth or new ones growing. What type of physician would follow through with a treatment? Can I do anything differently to eliminate them. I am 66 y.o., and considered healthy as all if my blood work levels are normal and I take no medication.
David2222 on September 24, 2016:
Is running or Gym exercise increase the growth of existing lipoma or it could be the cause of new lipoma. Can we carry on running to make ourself fit.
Chloe Ben (author) from Canada on July 20, 2015:
I'm sorry for your situation. But I can advise you to see a physician for appropriate diagnosis and recommendations.
shekhy123 on July 17, 2015:
Dear Mam ,
I have Lipoma all over my body . Small to Medium Size . Many of them are located on my Spine . I have Chronic Back pain and Soulder pain for 10 years now which may be due to nerves pressing by Lipomas. Can my lipomas of Spine may be removed without any damage to nerves ?