Lipomas are non-cancerous and are caused by an excess of fat cells. They can emerge anywhere on the body but are normally found on the shoulders, neck, abdomen, arms and thighs.
They are soft and doughy to touch and, although not normally painful, they can cause discomfort and pain if they grow and press on nearby nerves. About 1% of the public will develop a lipoma but it is unusual to have one or more of them.
If you notice a swelling anywhere on your body, have it checked out by your doctor. Lipomas tend to run in families, indicating a genetic factor, but their cause is unknown. They can occur at any age but are more common between the ages of 40 and 60-years-old.
A GP will examine the lump and may remove a tissue sample in a biopsy for laboratory examination and to rule out the small chance that it might be a rare liposarcoma, a cancerous tumor of fatty tissue – these grow rapidly, don’t move under the skin and are painful so are very different to lipomas. A GP may also recommend an ultrasound scan.
Treatments for lipoma include surgical removal under local anaesthetic with a technique known as minimal excision extraction which reduces the risk of scarring.
Liposuction, using a needled and large syringe to remove the lump, can be effective or the lipoma can be shrunk with steroid injections. This does not eliminate it and the dermatologist may subsequently advise surgical removal.