You’ve been told you or someone you know has a lipoma, but what are they and what should you do about it? In this article we’ll answer some of the questions you may have.
What is a Lipoma?
A lipoma is a non-cancerous (benign) growth of fatty tissue derived from our normal cells in the body called fat cells (adipocytes). They can present innocently over a few months or you may have noticed it there for a long time. They can also present as multiple lumps in different locations.
What are the symptoms?
Lipomas rarely cause pain and usually are asymptomatic. They may rub on clothing or cause irritation. If large they can press on local muscle and nerves therefore causing pins and needles for example. Very large lipomatous tumours can be deep and cause diffuse swelling, pain and reduced function.
Where do they occur?
Lipomas can occur anywhere on the body. The commonest locations are the arms, legs, shoulder and back of the neck just beneath the skin. Sometimes they can also present deep within the muscle so may not present as a distinct lump but more of a swelling.
What causes lipomas?
It is not known why such lumps can grow in size. There are very few reasons why they can do but localised trauma may make the lipomas feel harder then normal. Rarely individuals may have multiple lipomas.
Could this be cancerous?
Lipomas are not cancerous and are classed as benign lumps. If lipomas increase in size, which they can do over time, occasionally they can form atypical lipomatous tumours (ALT) which do have a small chance of transformation into a soft tissue sarcoma/cancer. Large lipomas which can increase to more than 5cm in size can press on local structures such as muscles and nerves which can cause associated symptoms.
What tests will I need?
Most can be detected with an ultrasound from our specialist radiologist. Some will require further assessment, particularly large lipomas with an MRI scan. Very occasionally a biopsy may be required on complex lipomatous lesions.
Can it be removed?
If it is bothering you surgical lipoma removal is an option and normally they don’t re-occur. Liposuction is not really an option as they can re-occur.
Pic of fatty lump
When should I see a doctor?
You should see a doctor to seek advice on any lump which is either painful or getting bigger in size. This is especially important if the lump is deep under the superficial skin structures. Its better to have peace of mind with a diagnosis early rather than waiting before its too late.