Lipomas: Causes, Treatments, And Removal Options

Written by Jessica “Nikki” Dietert, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist on November 28, 2023 3 Comments

lipoma removal

Originally published on July 14, 2020. Updated on November 27, 2023.

What if one day, while getting dressed, you notice a new lump on your skin? For many people, this can cause panic. Fortunately, these bumps are often a relatively harmless, benign tumor called a lipoma. These soft, fatty lumps can appear on various parts of the body and cause concern and curiosity among those who develop them. While they are generally not detrimental to one’s health, some individuals may opt to have them removed for cosmetic or other reasons.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of lipomas, addressing key questions about their nature, symptoms, treatment options, and more.

What Are Lipomas?

A lipoma is a growth of fat cells that form a nodule beneath the skin. Because a lipoma originates in the fatty tissue that lies between your muscle and skin, they can develop almost anywhere on the body where there is fat. They most commonly occur on the shoulders, arms, upper back, or thighs. They are typically soft, mobile, painless and slow growing. They usually start small and can enlarge slowly with time. Lipomas are typically benign, which means they can often be left untreated if they do not cause any issues. In rare cases, lipomas can grow and become more noticeable or uncomfortable, which should prompt evaluation with a healthcare professional.

How Common Are Lipomas?

Lipomas are relatively common and affect people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. Although they can emerge at any life stage, lipomas are more common in adults between the ages of 40 and 60. Women are more prone to develop an isolated lipoma while men more frequently develop multiple.

Symptoms of Lipomas

The most prominent symptom of a lipoma is the presence of a palpable, soft lump under the skin. Lipomas are usually painless, but they can cause discomfort if they are larger enough to press against nearby nerves or other tissue. There is a less common subtype of lipoma called angiolipomas that can be painful. These occur most frequently on the extremities.

What Causes Lipomas?

While the exact cause of lipomas remains unclear, their growth is typically associated with genetic factors. Additionally, lipomas may develop as a response to some form of physical trauma to the area. There are also certain rare genetic disorders that predispose an individual to developing numerous lipomas, but most are spontaneous.

Can Lipomas Be Prevented?

Unfortunately, there are no known methods to prevent lipoma development. Given their potential genetic basis, individuals with a family history of lipomas should remain vigilant and seek medical advice if any suspicious lumps appear.

Can A Lipoma Go Away On Its Own?

Lipomas typically do not resolve on their own. Instead, they tend to persist or slowly grow over time. For those who desire removal, medical intervention is required.

Are Lipomas Cancerous?

Lipomas are almost always benign, implying that they could be untreated if they are not causing any issues. Very infrequently, fatty growths may be a malignant version of a lipoma called a liposarcoma. These can require surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy. Regular monitoring and medical evaluation are important to rule out malignancy.

When is Lipoma Removal Surgery Recommended?

Lipomas are generally harmless and do not require treatment. However, there are a few instances where lipoma removal surgery may be recommended:

  • Cosmetic Concerns: If the lipoma is visible or causes self-consciousness, removal may be desired for cosmetic reasons.
  • Discomfort: If the lipoma grows large enough to press on nerves or muscles, it can cause pain or discomfort. In these instances, surgical removal may be necessary to alleviate symptoms.
  • Rapid Growth: While lipomas typically grow slowly, any sudden or rapid growth should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. In some cases, rapid growth may indicate a more serious condition that requires treatment.

Lipoma Removal Via Liposuction

Larger lipomas may sometimes be reduced in size through liposuction. In most cases, lipomas that are treated with liposuction do not completely disappear, although their size can be significantly reduced.

Lipoma Removal Surgery

Lipoma removal surgery is a relatively simple procedure that is usually performed in an outpatient office. This surgery enables the permanent removal of the lipoma, whereas other treatment options may allow the lipoma to regrow.

The surgical removal of lipomas is as follows:

Your physician will draw an outline of the tumor and indicate the incision length. A local anesthetic is then administered to minimize pain during the procedure. After prepping your skin with antiseptic, your doctor will use a scalpel to make an incision to the depth of the lipoma. The lipoma will then be separated and removed from surrounding tissues. Once the lipoma has been removed, the incision is closed using sutures and a sterile dressing is applied to the area. Sutures will need to be removed 7-14 days later, depending on the area of the body it is removed from. The size of the incision is proportional to the lipoma size, with smaller lipomas requiring a smaller incision. The lipoma will be submitted to pathology for evaluation to ensure it is benign once removed.

Aftercare and Recovery

It is normal to experience some pain, swelling, and bruising in the area after the surgery. However, these symptoms are temporary and should subside within a few days. Patients should contact their provider if they notice signs of infection like redness, swelling, fever, pain, or discharge. Typically, patients will return for a follow-up appointment to remove sutures at the appropriate time. Your surgeon will also provide aftercare instructions that may include:

  1. Keeping the area clean, dry and covered with a bandage.
  2. Avoiding strenuous activity or heavy lifting until sutures are removed.
  3. Take prescribed medication, if necessary.
  4. Following up with your surgeon to ensure proper healing.

When in Doubt, Get Checked Out

Lipomas are common among adults, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid seeing a doctor if you suspect you have one. A simple examination will determine the best course of treatment and you’ll be able to have peace of mind.

Jessica “Nikki” Dietert, MD

Jessica “Nikki” Dietert, MD is a board-certified dermatologist ad fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon at Westlake Dermatology. She then earned her medical degree at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas before completing a residency at The University of Texas at Houston/M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where she served as chief resident in her final year. She then finished training with a fellowship in Mohs micrographic surgery at Washington University in St. Louis.

3 Responses to “Lipomas: Causes, Treatments, And Removal Options”

  1. Avatar Chad says:

    I accidentally stuck my testosterone cypionate injection into a lipoma on my buttocks. It is sore the next day should I be worried??

  2. Avatar Chris says:

    Looking for a Dr who will do injections on my lipomas in the Ohio or surrounding areas. Do you know any? Everyone I have talked to so far only offers surgery options.

Leave a Reply