What is Lipoma?

A Lipoma is a benign tumor made up of adipocytes, or fat cells. These tumors can be surrounded by connective tissue in a capsule or they can be spread throughout subcutaneous tissue. Occasionally, lipomas may also develop in deeper tissues, like the abdominal organs. Lipomas are slow-growing and because they are often asymptomatic, they usually do not require treatment.

Although a lipoma is composed of fat cells, it is not caused by excess weight. In fact, the cause of this condition is not known, but lipomas do tend to run in families and some children have congenital lipomas. Lipomas can be seen in all ages, but they tend to be more frequent for ages forty to sixty.

Some rare diseases like Dercum’s disease or Madlung’s disease can also cause lipomas as a symptom. Decurm’s disease can cause painful growths that compress nerves on the legs, arms, and trunk. Alcoholics and/or those with mitochondrial DNA mutations can develop Madlung’s disease, which can cause lipomas all across the shoulder and neck region that in rare circumstances, could become cancerous.

What are the Symptoms of Lipoma?

Lipomas are usually just one or two centimeters in size although some can exceed more than twenty centimeters; and, they can be felt and seen as bumps under the dermis. They are round and have a rubbery, movable consistency and typically don’t cause any pain for a patient. Sometimes there is pain when a lipoma compresses a nerve.

Lipoma Causes

A lipoma is a lump composed of fat cells nested between the skin and underlying layer of muscle. They have a slow growth rate and are most commonly found on people’s shoulders, back or neck, although they may form on many different parts of a person’s body. Causes for developing a lipoma are commonly thought to be hereditary, although genetic studies have provided different results.

Some hereditary conditions like Familial Multiple Lipomatosis, Gardner Syndrome, Adiposis Dolorosa, Cowden Syndrome and Madelung Disease can promote multiple lipoma growth in a person. Studies have shown a correlation between the gene related to obesity (HMG I-C) and lipoma development. Another possible cause for lipoma growth is physical trauma, whether it be minor or major. It is not clear if the trauma is what causes the lipoma to develop, or if the lipoma was already in the affected area of the body and discovered during medical examination/treatment.

How is Lipoma Treated?

Most of the time, lipomas do not need to be treated at all since they stop growing and are asymptomatic. However, because some bumps can be seen on the skin, many patients may want them removed solely for cosmetic reasons. If the lipoma is compressing surrounding structures or is infected, then a person may want to have it removed.

Lipoma removal is an outpatient surgery. A doctor will usually inject a local anesthetic, make an incision, remove the tumor, and then stitch the patient back up. If the lipoma is in deeper layers and not safe for removal, then general anesthesia in an operating room is an option.

Lipoma Prevention

Unfortunately, there are no proven methods of preventing the growth or appearance of lipomas. No matter what a person does in their day to day life, there is nothing that can be done to stop lipomas from growing. Special diets or exercise routines will not aid in the prevention of new or old lipomas, mostly due to the fact that lipomas are part of a hereditary predisposition. It is very important to have a doctor check to verify that each growth (when there are several) is a lipoma before they are removed.

Typically, doctors do not recommend the removal of lipomas (since they are benign) unless they become too big or they interfere with a person’s normal activities. Sometimes, steroid shots and liposuction are used to shrink lipomas, although it is recommended to leave lipomas alone if they are not a cause for discomfort or annoyance.