A lipoma is a type of benign tumor that occurs beneath the skin and is composed of fatty adipose tissue. Lipomas can occur nearly anywhere on the body, but the most common locations for a lipoma to grow are the neck, armpits, upper arms, torso and upper thighs. Lipomas are not cancer, and they grow slowly. However, they have some similarities to a type of cancerous growth called a liposarcoma, so they should be checked out by a doctor.
Lipomas can be seen and felt right underneath the skin. They usually range in size between approximately half an inch to a little over an inch, although they can grow larger in some cases. A lipoma is a soft growth, sometimes described as “doughy” in feel, and it is easily moveable. A lipoma is usually not painful, but they can cause pain if they grow large or press on a nerve. Lipomas are not more common in overweight people. They can also form at any age, but the most common age to detect lipomas is between ages 40 and 60. A person can have just one lipoma or be prone to developing many of them.
Sometimes a clinical exam is all that is needed to diagnose a lipoma. A doctor may want to do a biopsy of the lump or do medical imaging tests, however, to make sure that it isn’t a cancerous tumor. If the lump is painful and it grows quickly, a liposarcoma may be suspected.
If it is confirmed that the tumor is a benign lipoma, treatment is not always necessary, especially if the lipoma is not causing pain. If the lipoma keeps growing, if it gets infected or if it is causing pain, it may be necessary to remove it surgically. Some people want lipomas removed for cosmetic reasons as well. The surgery to excise a lipoma is a minor surgery because lipomas are superfically located under the skin, and the lipoma is unlikely to come back after it is removed. The tumor can also be reduced in size with corticosteroid injections or even removed with liposuction, in some cases.
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