Lipomas are slow-growing, fatty tumors that lie deep within the fat, (the inner-most layer of the skin) and appear as soft lumps beneath the surface. Most of the time, a lipoma is easy to identify because it moves easily with very little finger pressure. Sometimes, they are tender to the touch but are usually not associated with any other symptoms. Lipomas rarely become malignant. Most common in middle-aged adults, they vary in size and develop into lesions. Treatment generally isn't necessary unless the lipomas become large and uncomfortable. Treatment consists of surgically removing the lipoma.

What does Lipoma look like?

Lipoma symptoms include:

  • Location - A lipoma is a flattened lump located just under your skin. Lipomas often occur in the neck, shoulders, back, arms and thighs.
  • Feel - A lipoma feels soft and doughy and moves easily with slight finger pressure.
  • Size - Most often, lipomas remain small — less than 2 inches (5 centimeters) in diameter, but they can grow large, reaching more than 4 inches (10 centimeters) across.
  • Pain - Lipomas can be painful if they grow and press on nearby nerves, or if they contain many blood vessels.

Because it grows slowly, you might have a lipoma for years before you notice it.

How is Lipoma diagnosed?

A lipoma can usually be diagnosed by its appearance alone, but your doctor may want to remove it to make sure the growth is non-cancerous. This removal is an in-office surgical procedure known as a biopsy. The tissue is later observed under a microscope to make the diagnosis.

How is Lipoma treated?

Often, treatment of a lipoma is not necessary, unless the tumor becomes painful or restricts movement. Many people have them removed for cosmetic reasons. However, if the lipoma is not completely removed during the surgery, it may grow back.

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 to the removal of kidney stones where ultrasound is used to pulverize the stones.

How to prevent Lipoma

The cause of lipomas is not fully understood, but the predisposition for developing them is hereditary. Sometimes, a minor injury can trigger their growth. The weight of a person does not affect the likelihood of lipomas. They can occur in all age groups but are more common in middle aged adults. Single lipomas occur with equal frequency in men and women. Multiple lipomas occur more frequently in men.