Lipomas are lumps of tissue within the skin that are caused by an overgrowth of fat cells.
Lipomas are very common and generally harmless, but they do require monitoring.
Because they grow and change over time, lipomas may also sometimes be referred to as tumours, but most are usually benign (meaning they are non-cancerous). They can also be called non-cancerous growths.
Even though a lipoma is usually harmless, it is important to seek medical advice from the GP, to rule out the presence of a lipoma as part of another medical condition, and because it is important to monitor a lipoma for any changes.
Symptoms of Lipomas
Lipomas can appear anywhere on the body that fat cells are present. They commonly appear on the trunk of the body – usually on the chest, shoulders, neck and thighs, but they can also occur under the arms.
Lipomas feel oval-shaped and soft to the touch, and they may move slightly underneath the skin when pressure is applied. Sometimes, depending on the size of the lipoma and its location on the body, they can be intermittently sore, especially if they are repeatedly rubbed against, but they are not usually painful.
Lipomas typically grow slowly, usually over a period of months or years. They will generally only grow to about 2-3 centimetres, but it is possible to have what’s known as a giant lipoma, which could exceed 10 centimetres.
Because lipomas are considered non-cancerous growths, it is important to monitor them for any changes, and this can usually be done by self-monitoring.
It’s important to let the GP know if changes occur, or if more lumps develop. Changes that should be reported might involve the lipoma;
Causes of Lipomas
Some research suggests that lipomas can also arise when there is damage to the tissue as a result of trauma from an accident or an injury.
Experts still do not know exactly what causes the overgrowth of far cells that cause lipomas, but they can arise due to genetic factors, meaning that if a parent had a lipoma, their child is more likely to have one; or they may present when there is an underlying medical condition.
Most lipomas form in adults between the ages of 40-60, and research has shown that in addition to genetic inheritance, there may be other factors that increase a person’s risk for developing lipomas, for example;
Treatment of Lipomas at Derma
Your appointment with the dermatologist will begin with analysis of the affected area, and together you will discuss your medical history, before a course of treatment is recommended.
Treatment for a lipoma depends on several factors including its location on your body, its size, and the degree to which it interferes with your day to day activities. Some people wish to have a lipoma removed because they don’t like the look of it, or it causes them to feel anxious. In some cases, if the lipoma is not bothering you, it might not need treatment, but it should still be monitored.
Together with the dermatologist, you will discuss the latest and most effective treatments. The dermatologist will explain all potential side-effects, enabling you to select the best option for you.
Many lipomas can be treated by excision, which is a relatively painless procedure that can be performed efficiently and effectively. Depending on insurance, treatment can be carried out the same day as the consultation.
If you are having a lipoma excised, and especially if you have underlying medical conditions or are taking certain types of medications, you may also need to have other investigations, like a blood test first, to make sure that you can safely undergo treatment.
Please note that further tests – such as a biopsy – may be necessary, which would mean that a sample of the excised lipoma might be sent for histological testing at a laboratory, in order to rule out possible underlying medical conditions.
If a lipoma is being excised, follow-up appointments will be required to ensure that the treatment is healing properly.