Lipomas are fatty tumors or growths that usually form just below the surface of the skin. The fat cells are contained in a very thin membrane, and the growths are not cancerous, nor do they develop into cancer. Lipomas can form anywhere on the body, but they most often develop on the upper arms or legs, neck or torso. Some people have multiple lipomas. The underlying cause of lipoma development and growth is unknown, but researchers think the growths may develop as a result of a minor injury. Genetics may also play a role.
Lipomas can range in size, usually ranging from less than a half inch to just over an inch in diameter, and they can be felt as soft, movable masses under the skin. Most lipomas don’t cause pain or other symptoms, and they tend to grow very, very slowly. As the lipoma grows, it may interfere with normal movement and cause irritation, and it can also become visible to others, resulting in a cosmetic issue that can cause the patient to feel self-conscious.
Lipomas are typically easy to diagnose during a physical exam. Those that cause no symptoms usually are not treated, but in a few cases, removal may be advised to ensure the growth is a lipoma and not a cancerous tumor or an ultrasound may be ordered. When a lipoma becomes large, causes pain or becomes infected, it can be removed surgically. Lipoma removal is performed on an outpatient basis using a local anesthetic and sometimes sedation, depending on the size and location of the growth. An incision is made over or next to the lipoma and the growth is carefully removed. The incision site is closed using small sutures and a protective dressing is applied to keep the site clean during the initial stages of healing. Lipomas located in deep areas or areas that are not easily accessed through simple, small incisions in the skin may need to be removed during a surgical procedure performed under deeper IV sedation or general anesthesia.
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