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.
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.
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.