What is a lipoma?
Lipomas are reasonably common, harmless, fatty lumps. They are benign, meaning they are not cancerous.
The cause of lipomas is often unknown, but some families have a genetic tendency to develop them. They are more common in people aged 40 to 60.
Lipomas can appear anywhere where you have fat cells and most commonly grow on the neck, chest, back, shoulders, arms and thighs. Sometimes lipomas grow inside the body and you may not be aware they are there.
In most cases, people only develop 1 or 2 lipomas. Occasionally, however, some people have lots of lipomas due to rare inherited conditions, such as familial multiple lipomatosis.
What are the symptoms of lipomas?
Lipomas are typically:
- soft and 'doughy'
- small (1cm) but can grow larger (5-10cm)
- moveable under the skin
- slow growing
- painless, but can become painful if they grow larger or press on nerves
When should I see my doctor?
See your doctor if you have a lump that you are concerned about.
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How are lipomas diagnosed?
Your doctor will assess you and if the diagnosis is not clear, they may send you for investigations, including an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI scan or biopsy (a test of a sample of tissue).
If your doctor has any concerns or you want the lipoma removed, they may refer you to a specialist.
Some lumps that look like lipomas can be cancerous, such as liposarcomas. These lumps tend to be painful, fast-growing and fixed under the skin. In this case, your doctor will refer you to a specialist for diagnosis and treatment.
Some lumps that look like lipomas can be cysts. Cysts tend to be closer to the skin surface and firm to the touch.
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How are lipomas treated?
Most lipomas do not need to be removed, unless they are painful or need formal diagnosis. Some people also have lipomas removed if they are in an obvious place and they are embarrassed by them.
The most common way to remove a lipoma is to cut it out surgically or use liposuction. The possible complications of surgery include infection, bleeding, pain, scarring, or that the lipoma comes back.
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Last reviewed: March 2021