What is a skin lipoma?

Lipoma, Lumps and Bumps

Lipomas are usually small, benign masses that do not need to be removed. 

Essentially, a lipoma is a growth of fatty tissue that develops under your skin. The development of a lipoma is usually gradual and slow. One can develop a lipoma at any age. However, it is rarer in children. Lipomas can develop on any part of the body. However, they are typically found on the:

 

They are classified as benign growths (tumours) made of fatty tissue, meaning that a lipoma is not cancerous and is rarely harmful. Therefore, treatment for a lipoma usually is not necessary unless it is bothering you.

As with the case of an individual who found three lipomas on his body, his doctors advised that he only remove the largest as it was beginning to cause him pain.

What Causes a Lipoma?

While the cause of a lipoma is unknown, they are thought to be linked to physical trauma. However, it is still unclear whether a lipoma develops due to the trauma, or if the lipoma is only discovered due to the medical attention given to the area of the body after it suffers from physical trauma.

What Are the Symptoms of a Lipoma?

While there are various types of skin tumours, doctors are usually able to diagnose lipomas based on their distinct characteristics. 

Lipoma Symptoms:

  • Soft to the touch
  • Easily moved when prodded 
  • Just below the skin
  • Colourless
  • Slow growing 

 

Typically, lipomas are located in the neck, upper arms, thighs, forearms, but they can also occur on the stomach or back.

If a lipoma compresses nerves underneath the skin, it can cause the individual pain. However, there is a variant condition known as angiolipoma that is also more often painful than regular lipomas.

Inform your doctor immediately if you notice any changes in your skin and lipoma as lipomas can look very similar to a rare type of cancer called a liposarcoma.

What Is the Difference Between a Lipoma and a Liposarcoma?

Both lipoma and liposarcoma form in fatty tissue and both cause lumps. However, they are two extremely different conditions. A lipoma is noncancerous or benign, while a liposarcoma is cancerous and malignant. 

If you are concerned about any lumps and bumps that may occur on your skin, you should always seek medical advice from your doctor.

Risk Factors for Developing a Lipoma

While the cause of lipomas are mainly unknown, there may be a genetic cause in individuals with multiple lipomas, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This means that your risk of developing lipomas increases if there is a family history of such issues. 

Lipomas are most common in adults between the ages of 40 and 60.

However, certain conditions may also increase the risk of lipoma development.

  • Adiposis dolorosa (a rare disorder characterised by multiple, painful lipomas)
  • Madelung’s disease
  • Cowden syndrome
  • Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome
  • Gardner’s syndrome (rarely)

How Is a Lipoma Diagnosed?

Doctors can often diagnose a lipoma with a physical exam. They will be able to determine if it feels soft and whether or not it is causing you pain. Since lipomas are made up of fatty tissues, they move easily when poked or prodded. 

In some cases, a biopsy of the lipoma may be required. During this procedure, a dermatologist will take a small portion of the tissue and send it to a lab for testing.

Biopsies are done to rule out the possibility of cancer. Although a lipoma is not cancerous, it rarely mimics a liposarcoma. Liposarcomas are malignant, or cancerous.

If your lipoma continues to grow and becomes painful, your doctor can remove it to relieve your discomfort while ruling out the possibility of liposarcoma. Additionally, further testing using MRI and CT scans may be required if a biopsy shows that a suspected lipoma could be a liposarcoma.

How Is Lipoma Treated?

A lipoma that is left alone typically does not cause any problems to the individual. However, a dermatologist can treat the lipoma if it bothers you. This decision will be made based on several factors:

  • The size of the lipoma
  • The number of skin tumours you have
  • Your personal history of skin cancer
  • Your family history of skin cancer
  • Whether the lipoma is painful

 

Lipoma Treatment – Surgery

A lipoma will typically be removed through surgery. This method is beneficial if you have a large skin tumour that is still growing.

Do note that lipomas can sometimes grow back even after they are surgically removed. The procedure to remove a lipoma is typically done under local anaesthesia through a process known as an excision.

What to expect during lipoma removal surgery?

Here is some information to help you prepare for lipoma removal surgery.

Before the surgery

  • Your doctor may advise you to stop your medications for a few weeks before the procedure. This is because some medications may increase a person’s chances of bleeding.
  • Cut off smoking and alcohol before the procedure.
  • Do not apply any cosmetics, lotions, deodorant or medicines to the affected area before the procedure.
  • Fast as instructed before the procedure.

During the surgery

Your surgeon will give you an injection for local anaesthesia around the lipoma.
The procedure is usually completed within 15 minutes.

In enucleation:

  • Your surgeon makes a small incision of three to four millimetres in the skin over your lipoma.
  • A curette is used to separate the lipoma from the surrounding normal tissue.
  • The lipoma is completely removed.
  • A pressure dressing is used to cover the wound.

In excision:

  • Your surgeon makes a few incisions in the skin over your lipoma.
  • A light pull is applied to the flap of skin created by the incisions and your surgeon cuts off the lipoma from the surrounding normal tissue.
  • The resulting tissue space is closed with absorbable suture material.
  • Your skin is closed using non-absorbable sutures.

After the procedure

  • You may be discharged on the day of the procedure.
  • You may be required to use sanitary napkins for the bleeding for a week or so.
  • Use a heat pad or warm compress to relieve the pain from the incision.
  • Keep the wound clean and dry. Gently wash the wound under mild soap.
  • Change the dressings on your wound after showering.
  • You may apply antibiotics ointment to cleanse your surgical wound.
  • You may resume your daily activities within a few days depending on the size and location where the lipoma was removed.
  • Skin sutures may be removed in around 1 to 2 weeks.

Liposuction to Remove a Lipoma

Liposuction is another treatment option to remove a lipoma. As lipomas are fat-based, liposuction can work well to reduce its size. The procedure involves a needle attached to a large syringe, and the area is usually numbed beforehand.

Steroid Injections in Treating Lipoma

Steroid injections may also be used on the affected area. Steroid injections can shrink the lipoma, but it does not remove it entirely.

What Is the Outlook for Someone With a Lipoma?

Lipomas are benign tumours, meaning that there is no chance that an existing lipoma will spread to other parts of the body. A lipoma cannot spread through muscles or other surrounding tissues. Lipomas are not life-threatening.

Lipomas cannot be removed on your own. While warm compresses may work for other types of skin lumps, they are ineffective against lipomas. This is because a lipoma is made up of a collection of fat cells.

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