A lipoma is a soft, fatty lump that grows under the skin. This is benign which means it is not cancerous. Lipoma is a dermatological condition which means it is one affecting the skin.
What causes Lipoma?The cause of lipomas is not fully understood although it believed that they may be hereditary (passed down through families).
Anyone can develop a lipoma at any age. They are common – about one in 100 people develop one or more lipomas at some point in their lives.
It is unusual to develop more than one or two lipomas, unless you have an inherited condition called familial multiple lipomatosis, which causes multiple lipomas to develop.
What are the signs and symptoms of Lipoma?A lipoma is a fatty lump that usually causes no symptoms or problems. The only sign is the lump itself. They can occur in any part of the body where there are fat cells. They typically feel soft and can be felt to move slightly under the skin when you press on them. Most lipomas are small and are best left alone.
The most noticeable ones look and feel like soft, dome-shaped lumps under the skin. They vary in size from pea size to several centimeters in diameter. The most common sites where lipomas develop are on the shoulders, the chest and the back, but other areas of the skin can develop a lipoma.
Rarely, a lipoma may press on another part of your body and cause problems. For example, if one presses on a nerve it may cause pain.
Lipomas can less commonly form inside the body too. However, in most of these cases you will not be aware that you have a lipoma as you cannot see them and they rarely cause any problems.
Very rarely, a lipoma may develop in the gut wall and cause problems such as pain or a blockage of the gut.
How is Lipoma normally diagnosed?If a bump is a lipoma it will feel smooth and soft, like rubber or dough, and may move about under the skin. If there is concern it could be something more serious, seek the advice of a GP.
They can usually confirm whether the lump is a lipoma just by examining it.
If there is any doubt about the diagnosis, the lipoma may be removed.
How is Lipoma normally treated?Usually a lipoma needs no treatment at all. However, some people want lipomas that are unsightly to be removed for cosmetic reasons and, occasionally, a lipoma needs to be removed if it is causing symptoms such as pain by pressing on another part of the body such as a nerve.
For a lipoma that forms under the skin, usually it can be removed by a simple minor operation. Some local anaesthetic is injected into the skin over the lipoma. Once the skin is numbed, a little cut is made over the lipoma. The lipoma is then removed and cut away from the underlying tissue. The wound is then stitched up. A scar will be left.
The removal of a lipoma for cosmetic reasons is rarely available through the NHS. Generally, the NHS will only carry out cosmetic surgery procedures if the problem is seriously affecting your physical or mental health.
What happens next?In most cases a lipoma causes no problems and is very small. If the lipoma does cause discomfort however, it can be removed leaving a scar.
Last reviewed by Great Ormond Street Hospital: 5 August 2011