Lipoma

A lipoma is a soft fatty lump that grows under your skin.

Key points about lipoma

  1. A lipoma is usually small and harmless. 
  2. They are very common and occur in people of all ages. 
  3. Your doctor will diagnose a lipoma by examining the lump. 
  4. Normally no treatment is needed for a lipoma.
  5. See your GP or doctor if you have concerns about a lump.

What is a lipoma?

A lipoma is made up of lumps of fatty tissue. It grows slowly under your skin. It is benign (non-cancerous) and is usually harmless. 


Image credit: 123rf

What causes lipoma?

It is not clear why people get lipoma. People with a family history of lipomas tend to get them and some people have many lipomas. This is called familial lipomatosis. Sometimes, prior injury to that part of your body can trigger the growth of a lipoma. 

Lipomas can occur in people of all ages and affect both men and women equally. 

Some health conditions can make you more likely to get lipomas. These include:

  • diabetes
  • high cholesterol
  • liver disease
  • obesity.

What are the symptoms of lipoma?

Common symptoms of a lipoma include a small lump or swelling that:

  • grows slowly under your skin
  • is soft and smooth
  • can be moved easily under your skin
  • ranges from 2–10 cm in diameter
  • is painless.

Lipomas can grow anywhere there is fat tissue on your body, but are most commonly seen on your shoulders, neck, trunk and arms. 

Rarely, a lipoma may grow large enough to put pressure on nearby structures. This can cause problems, such as pain if it presses on a nerve. 

See your GP or doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • multiple lumps over your body
  • painful, red or hot lumps
  • hard lumps 
  • skin lumps that don't move
  • a lump that is growing or has a scaly surface.

How is lipoma diagnosed?

Your doctor will usually diagnose a lipoma by examining the skin lump or swelling. Normally no tests are needed. However, sometimes an ultrasound scan, CT scan or MRI scan may be needed to confirm your lipoma. In rare cases, a biopsy is done. This is when a small sample of the lump is taken and sent to a laboratory to be examined.   

How is lipoma treated?

A lipoma is usually not treated. Occasionally, people wish to have one removed because it is unsightly or it puts pressure on nearby structures and causes problems. In this case, your lipoma may require removal by surgery or, in some cases, the fat cells are sucked out by a needle (liposuction). This is usually done under a local anaesthetic.

Talk to your GP or doctor to find out if your lipoma needs removal. Some GPs will do the surgery for you. In other cases, they will refer you to a specialist. 

Learn more

Lipoma HealthInfo Canterbury, NZ 
Lipoma and liposarcoma DermNet, NZ
Lipoma Patient Info, UK 
Lipoma NHS, UK 

References

  1. Lipoma and liposarcoma DermNet, NZ
  2. Soft tissue lumps in adults Auckland Regional HealthPathways, NZ
  3. Lipoma Patient Info, UK 

Reviewed by

After 45 years of GP experience, and 8 years as an examiner and practice assessor, Dr Bryan Frost has completed a Diploma in Editing and is pursuing a new career. He also has a Diploma in Health Administration, with honours in management, and has also completed a paper in Health Care Law.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Bryan Frost, FRNZCGP, Morrinsville Last reviewed: 09 Dec 2020