Lipomas are accumulations of fat cells that build up in a thin capsule located right under the skin. While they are often confused with cancer, lipomas are completely different and there is zero risk of turning into cancer. Some people can develop more than one lipoma at a time. They can appear anywhere on the body but are more common on the neck, upper thighs, upper arms, armpits and the torso. Lipomas are widespread, being the most common type of tissue growth that isn't cancer.

A lipoma is usually located between the skin and the first layer of muscles under it. It is a fatty nodule that usually has a very slow rate of growth. A quick way to identify a lipoma is to test if you can move it with your finger. Lipomas are not usually painful when touched and not tender. Lipomas can appear anywhere, in any numbers and at any age. They are commonly encountered in mid-adulthood.

What causes a lipoma?

Lipomas are inherited but their exact cause is not known. Even if they are fat deposits, they are not linked to weight or obesity. It seems that the risk is inherited and they can develop after some minor wounds.

What are the symptoms of lipoma?

Males and females are equally likely to develop lipomas but males have a higher risk to be affected by multiple ones. They can emerge at any age, on any area of the body. The most vulnerable zones are usually the torso, shoulders, back, neck and the arms.

Lipomas have a number of common characteristics. They grow immediately under the skin and are soft when touched, similar to dough. The size changes in time, they start small then grow at a slow rate. While the lipomas do not hurt themselves, pain can be caused if their expansion puts stress on nearby nerves or blood vessels.

Scientists have not understood yet why lipomas develop but some risk factors have been identified. While they can appear at any age, they are most often found between the ages of 40 and 60. Some diseases seem to greatly increase the risk of lipomas, so there must be a connection between them. These include Madelung disease, Cowden syndrome, Bannayn-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome, Gardner syndrome or adiposis dolorosa. People who suffer from one of these conditions have a higher risk of developing multiple lipomas.

You should go to a doctor immediately if you notice any swollen area on your body or lump under the skin. Lipomas have to be investigated but they are usually not a severe health issue. Very often, the problem is that the lipoma increases in size and becomes obvious to others. Some locations can be extremely easy to notice and cause embarrassment.

Doctors have classified lipomas into several types. An angiolipoleiomyoma is found alone and consists of connective tissues, with some fat cells and blood vessels. A lipoma that puts pressure on nearby nerves is known as a neural fibrolipoma. A type specific to women is the intradermal spindle cell lipoma, often found on the head, neck and torso. Chondroid lipomas are also found only on women, have a yellow color, are deeper than the other types and can be found on the legs. Hibernomas consist of either adipose or fat tissues.

The most common type of lipomas are the spindle-cell ones. These appear on the back, shoulders and neck and are more common in men, although they can affect both sexes. Finally, a type of spindle-cell lipomas are the pleomorphic ones. These include specific floret giant cells and are usually found on elder males.

Treatment options

Most lipomas don't require any type of treatment and are harmless. If they grow in size, they can become painful. In such a case, you should go ask for medical advice, since lipomas can be removed.

The most common treatment is the removal of the lipomas through surgery. A bruise or a permanent scar can persist in the area but it's very unlikely that a new lipoma will develop in the same location. The modern minimal excision extraction is a surgical procedure that reduces the risk of scarring.

To avoid surgery, it is possible to use injections with steroids. These rarely remove the lipoma completely but can reduce its size. It is possible to combine injections with surgery, in order to make the procedure less invasive. A doctor can also remove the accumulation of fat using a needle and an oversized syringe. This technique is known as liposuction.