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Lipomas: Harmless Lumps or a Cause for Concern?

Lipomas Harmless Lumps or a Cause for Concern

Lipomas are slow-growing fatty lumps between the skin and the underlying muscle layer. They are common but often misunderstood. While typically benign, lipomas need to be diagnosed by a healthcare provider.

If you have noticed a lump, request an appointment at your dermatologist’s office. Lipomas can raise concerns because of their potential for discomfort or cosmetic impact. This blog post will discuss the characteristics, causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for lipomas. Understanding the nature of lipomas is essential for making informed decisions and seeking appropriate medical care. 


Characteristics of Lipomas

A lipoma is a fatty lump that grows slowly between your skin and the underlying muscle layer. 

  • Look and Feel: A lipoma typically appears as a soft, doughy mass that can be easily moved slightly under your skin by applying finger pressure. They’re like lumps or bumps under the skin with a rubbery consistency.
  • Size: Lipomas can range in size. Some might be as small as a tiny marble, while others can grow larger than a golf ball. Most lipomas remain small, but in some rare cases, they can grow over several centimeters in diameter.
  • Occurrence: While most people may have a single lipoma, it’s common for some individuals to develop multiple lipomas simultaneously. These are usually scattered in different body parts, and their development might be attributed to genetics.


Causes of Lipomas

The exact cause of a lipoma needs to be better understood. However, researchers believe that genetic factors may contribute significantly to their development. Some studies suggest minor injuries can trigger lipoma growth, but this theory requires further investigation.


Risk Factors

Certain factors may increase the risk of developing lipomas:

  • Age: While lipomas can develop at any age, they are predominantly found in middle-aged adults between 40 and 60. This occurrence does not mean younger or older individuals are exempt, but the detection frequency tends to be higher in the middle-aged bracket.
  • Heredity: Lipomas can run in families, suggesting a hereditary aspect. If your parents or siblings have had one or more lipomas, you might also be at a heightened risk of developing them. In some rare cases, certain inherited disorders, such as familial multiple lipomatosis, can result in numerous lipomas.


Symptoms of Lipomas

Lipomas are distinct in their presentation and generally display the following symptoms:

  • Location: Lipomas can occur anywhere where fat cells are present. However, they are most commonly discovered in the neck, shoulders, back, abdomen, arms, and thighs.
  • Texture and Mobility: Lipomas are soft to the touch, often described as doughy or rubbery. They tend to be movable under the skin with finger pressure, owing to their loose attachment to the overlying skin and underlying tissues.
  • Potential for Pain: While most lipomas are painless, some can become uncomfortable. This discomfort usually arises when the lipoma compresses nearby nerves or has an abundant supply of blood vessels. Nevertheless, a painful lipoma can also be a sign of a more severe condition and should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.


Diagnosis of Lipomas

The diagnosis of a lipoma usually involves the following steps:

  1. Identification: Lipomas often have a distinctive feel and appearance, which can hint towards their presence during a physical examination. They are soft, doughy, easily movable under the skin, and do not cause pain unless they press on nearby nerves.
  2. Medical Consultation: It is crucial to seek medical advice if you notice any lump or swelling anywhere on your body. While most lumps are not severe, only a healthcare professional can accurately diagnose their nature.
  3. Further Testing: In some cases, doctors might order imaging tests such as ultrasounds, CT scans, or MRIs to confirm the diagnosis. In rare instances where the lipoma’s nature is uncertain, a biopsy might be performed, where a small tissue sample is collected and examined under a microscope.

Remember, self-diagnosis can lead to unnecessary worry or neglect of a serious condition. So, always consult a healthcare provider when you discover any unfamiliar growth or swelling on your body.


Treatment of Lipomas

Lipomas Harmless Lumps Or A Cause For Concern

While lipomas are typically harmless, there are circumstances where treatment may be necessary:

  1. Necessity for Removal: If a lipoma is causing discomfort or pain or shows signs of growth, it might need to be removed. Additionally, removal could be considered if its location leads to self-consciousness or disrupts normal body function.
  2. Removal Procedures: There are several methods to remove a lipoma, the most common being surgical removal. During this procedure, a local anesthetic is used to numb the area, and the lipoma is excised. The wound is then closed with stitches. The removed lipoma might be sent to a lab for further examination to rule out rare, more severe conditions.
  3. Liposuction: In some cases, liposuction might be performed. This procedure involves inserting a needle into the lipoma and sucking out the fat cells. This method is advantageous for lipomas located in areas where minimal scarring is desired.
  4. Steroid Injections: Steroid injections can also be used to shrink a lipoma but won’t eliminate it. This method might be considered if surgery isn’t an option due to the lipoma’s location or the patient’s health condition.

It’s crucial to note that the decision for treatment should be discussed with a healthcare provider to weigh the potential risks and benefits. Treatment choices can vary depending on individual case scenarios.


Lipomas and Cancer

A common concern that many people have is the potential for lipomas to turn into cancer.

It’s important to stress that most lipomas are benign growths. They are composed of fat cells and do not become cancerous. Their growth is usually slow, and they do not invade surrounding tissues or spread to other parts of the body, distinguishing them from cancerous tumors.

However, a rare type of cancer called liposarcoma, can develop in the fat cells. Liposarcoma is not a benign lipoma turned malignant but a separate, rare, and aggressive form of cancer. It behaves very differently from a lipoma, multiplying, often invading surrounding tissues, and potentially spreading to other parts of the body.

While the chances of a lipoma being or becoming a liposarcoma are extremely low, a healthcare provider should evaluate any new growth or changes in an existing lipoma. Lumps that are deep, large, painful, or rapidly growing require urgent evaluation.

Remember, leaving concerns unaddressed can lead to stress and anxiety. It’s always best to consult a healthcare provider about a lipoma or lump on your body. They can provide a proper evaluation and discuss any necessary steps for treatment or monitoring.


Understanding the Nature of Lipomas

While lipomas are generally harmless, their presence can understandably cause concern. Remember, though, these benign growths are typically not a cause for concern. That being said, it’s always paramount to consult a healthcare provider if you notice any lump or unexplained growth in your body.

Lipomas can occasionally cause discomfort or become a cosmetic concern. Treatment options, including surgical removal and liposuction, are available when this happens. Despite their benign nature, an increase in size, pain, or new growth should be professionally evaluated to rule out other potentially serious conditions.

Understanding your body and staying vigilant about changes is key in navigating your health journey. But remember, you’re never alone in this journey. Reach out to a healthcare provider with any concerns or questions.

Are you or a loved one dealing with a lipoma or other skin concerns? Don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider today. Call or text for an appointment at Valley Skin Institute at (559) 472-7546.

Your health is worth it!

Dr. Leslie Storey | Valley Skin Institute

Dr. Leslie Storey is a board-certified physician specializing in medical and surgical dermatology. Her mission is to find and remove skin cancer, which she does more than 2,000 times a year. An expert in Mohs Surgery, Dr. Storey’s patients often comment that they are amazed at how minimal their scar is after they have healed from surgery. If you notice anything suspicious on your skin, request an appointment with Dr. Storey to have it checked out.

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