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The shoulder and neck are common sites for lipomas to occur.

The shoulder and neck are common sites for lipomas to occur.
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Lipomas are soft fatty lumps that grow under the skin. They can grow anywhere in your body and are generally harmless. Lipomas only need to be removed if they are causing problems or if their diagnosis is not clear.

What is a lipoma?

Lipomas are reasonably common, harmless, fatty lumps. They are benign, meaning not cancerous.

The cause of lipomas is often unknown, but some families have a genetic tendency to develop them.

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.

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

See your doctor if you have a lump that you are concerned about.

Diagnosis of lipomas

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.

Treatment of lipomas

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.

Illustration of surgically removing a lipoma.
Lipomas do not need to be removed, unless they are painful or cause inconvenience. One of the most common ways to remove a lipoma is to cut it out surgically.

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Last reviewed: March 2019

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