Weird lumps and bumps beneath the skin aren’t always bad news. One common skin lump that affects many people is the lipoma. Let’s discover what these benign cancers are and how they’re treated.
Lipoma is the medical term for a fatty tissue tumor. These tumors are almost always benign (non-cancerous). They look and feel like round, spongy lumps under the skin and can range in size from small (golf-ball sized) to large (tennis-ball sized).
Lipomas also can occur in deep tissue, such as between the muscles of the leg. Often, lipomas present no symptoms and sometimes even go away on their own. However, if you have visible or painful lipomas, you may want to have them treated or removed.
Rarely, lipomas can result from a more serious, underlying condition, such as Gardner’s Syndrome and Madelung Disease. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have any unexplained lump under the skin checked out by your health care provider.
WHAT CAUSES LIPOMAS?
Like any tumor, a lipoma results from cells going haywire and multiplying at a faster than normal. Unlike cancer, the abnormal cell reproduction that causes lipomas is not aggressive or invasive. Lipoma should not be confused with liposarcoma, which is a form of fatty tissue cancer that can look like a non-cancerous lipoma. A physician can perform a microscopic evaluation of tumor cells to make sure they’re not cancerous.
Genetics may contribute to the development of lipomas. In fact, babies can be born with genetically inherited lipomas. Researchers also believe lipomas may be caused in some cases by previous blunt force trauma to an area of fatty tissue.
Lipomas tend to grow slowly, which is why they mainly occur in people age 40 to 60. Lipomas primarily occur above the waist, on the head, neck, back and shoulders.
There is no way to prevent lipomas from occurring and no way to reduce your risk of getting one. Men are more likely to have multiple lipomas that arise at the same time, in the same area of the body, while woman are more likely to experience individual lipomas.
Unless a lipoma is symptomatic, the usual treatment is not to treat it at all. If the lipoma or cluster of lipomas is unsightly or causes pain, your health care provider may offer to treat the tumor(s) using one of the following methods:
- Steroid injection. Corticosteroids injected into the center of a lipoma will shrink (but not necessarily eliminate) the tumor. Generally, steroid injections are reserved for lipomas measuring less than one inch in diameter.
- Liposuction. Using a large-gauge needle and syringe, your physician can suck out the fatty core of the lipoma. This type of liposuction is not the same as the cosmetic procedure used for body sculping.
- Surgical excision. Usually performed under local anesthesia (skin numbing), surgical removal of a lipoma involves making a small incision, locating the exterior capsule of the tumor and pulling the whole tumor out from beneath the skin.
NOTHING TO FEAR FROM LIPOMAS
As non-cancerous tumors, lipomas represent no threat to your health. However, if they are unsightly or causing you pain, you certainly can opt to have them treated by a medical professional.