Lipomas are benign (not cancerous), slow-growing tumours that arise from fat cells. They are usually round, moveable, flattened lumps under the skin. They feel soft and doughy or rubbery. Lipomas usually grow in the neck, shoulders, back, or arms. Lipomas are the most common non-cancerous tumour in adults. They can occur at any age, but they often appear when you're between 40 and 60 years of age. Sometimes they run in families. Sometimes they are caused by an injury. Most lipomas do not hurt unless they are squeezed or bruised.
What are the types of lipomas?
The most common type is known as "superficial subcutaneous lipoma," i.e. just below the surface of the skin. Most occur on the trunk, thighs and the forearms, although they may be found anywhere in the body where fat is located.
How is it diagnosed?
Usually a lipoma has been growing for years before you might notice it. It is fairly common to have more than one. If you notice a lump or swelling anywhere on your body, you should have it checked by your family doctor. Tests are usually not needed. Your doctor can usually diagnose a lipoma just by looking at it and feeling the firmness of the lump.
How are lipomas treated?
Because lipomas are almost always benign, they usually do not need treatment. If they are painful or are growing quickly, you may want to have treatment. Treatment options include steroid shots, liposuction, or surgery. Lipomas are normally removed by simple excision. However, liposuction is another option if the lipoma is soft and has a small connective tissue component. Liposuction often results in less scarring; however it has a greater tendency to fail to remove the entire lipoma, often resulting in re-growth.
There are new methods being developed that are supposed to remove the lipomas without scarring. One of them is removal by the use of injection of various substances. Another method being developed is the use of ultrasound waves to destroy the lipoma. This can be compared with the removal of kidney stones where ultrasound is used to pulverize the stones.