Learn about these benign fatty tumors and treatment options.

If you have a benign fatty tumor called a lipoma, you may worry this tumor is a form of cancer. The good news is lipomas are not cancerous. However, they are similar to a type of cancerous tumor. That’s why it’s important to see a doctor to make sure there’s no cause for alarm.

Our dermatologists have years of experience treating lipomas and other common skin conditions. We’ll make sure you have the facts about your lipoma and the treatment options we offer.

Frequently asked questions about lipomas

Henry Ford Dermatology has answers to your questions about lipomas.

  • What are the symptoms of a lipoma, and where do they grow?

    You may be able to notice a lipoma just under your skin. Lipomas have several common symptoms that include:

    • Small in size: Lipomas are usually small -- less than two inches across -- and stay the same size or grow slowly. However, in some cases, they can grow to several inches in size.
    • Move easily: Most lipomas are located between the skin and the underlying muscle layer, so they will move easily with slight finger pressure.
    • Texture: These fatty tumors are soft and rubbery to the touch.
    • Usually not painful: Small lipomas typically are not painful. However, larger lipomas may press into surrounding nerves, which can cause pain.

    Lipomas typically grow under the skin. But they can occur almost anywhere in the body -- including in muscles and internal organs. Lipomas usually appear on the:

    • Armpits
    • Neck
    • Shoulders
    • Torso

    Some people may have multiple lipomas. These fatty tumors are the most common type of noncancerous soft-tissue growth.

  • What are the risk factors for lipomas?

    We don’t know what causes a lipoma to form. But we do know there are several factors that can increase your risk:

    • Age: While anybody can develop a lipoma, they most often appear in middle age.
    • Heredity: If others in your family have had a lipoma, this may increase your risk.
    • Other medical conditions: People with certain disorders -- including Gardner syndrome and adiposis dolorosa -- are at greater risk to develop multiple lipomas.
    • Injury: Minor physical trauma may help trigger a fatty tumor growth in that area.

    Although lipomas are not cancerous, they’re similar to a rare type of cancerous fatty tumor called a liposarcoma. Unlike lipomas, a liposarcoma does not move, grows rapidly, and is usually painful. Have a doctor examine any suspicious growth to rule out the possibility of cancer.

  • What is the diagnostic process for lipomas?

    Your primary care doctor typically will diagnose a lipoma during a physical exam. Your doctor may recommend additional testing if:

    • The lipoma is larger than normal
    • The lipoma is located somewhere other than under the skin
    • The lipoma is painful
    • Your doctor suspects you may actually have a liposarcoma

    If you need more tests, we offer several options:

    If you are diagnosed with a lipoma, your doctor will discuss whether treatment is necessary. You may need a referral to a dermatologist.

  • What are my lipoma treatment options?

    You may not need treatment. However, you may choose to undergo treatment if the fatty tumor:

    • Bothers you
    • Is growing
    • Is in a location that’s noticeable
    • Is infected
    • Is painful

    Depending on your particular case, your skin doctor may recommend one of three treatment methods:

    • Surgery: Most lipomas can be removed through an outpatient procedure. During this surgery, your doctor makes an incision in the skin and cuts out the fatty tumor.
    • Liposuction: Similar to surgery, this outpatient procedure involves making a small incision in the skin and using a thin, hollow tube to vacuum out the fatty tumor.
    • Steroid injections: Either in place of or leading up to surgery, your doctor may recommend a steroid injection. This injection can shrink the lipoma but typically doesn’t eliminate it.
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