Lipoma

Originally Published: December 6, 2002 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: September 6, 2012
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Dear Alice,

I have a lump on my neck, and the biopsy indicates it is a Lipoma. I looked it up and it is a tumor consisting primarily of fat cells. OK, that tells me a lot. Did that last can of Pringles park on my neck? What causes these? Should I be worried that it involves a lymph gland? It got REALLY big when I had an ear infection (that's when I first noticed it). Right now the doctor is taking a "wait and see" attitude. Since it is benign, I'm not particularly worried about it — just wondering where I could find more information.

—TONY

Dear TONY,

Way to take note of any changes in your body! Any time you notice a lump or growth, it is important to seek advice from a health care provider. A lipoma is a benign tumor of fatty tissue, meaning a non-cancerous lump of fat cells. Lipomas, the most common benign growth of soft tissue, do not become cancerous over time. Typically less than an inch in diameter, they are located directly under the skin.

Lipomas grow incredibly slowly, if at all, and usually occur in multiples, particularly in families. To the touch, lipomas are often soft, painless, and moveable under the skin. Although they may occur anywhere on the body, lipomas are usually located on the chest, upper thighs and arms, neck, and shoulders. Men and women of any age can develop lipomas, though they are more often seen among middle-aged people.

The cause of lipomas is unclear. Some possibilities include having had a minor injury at the site where the lipoma will develop, heredity, and chromosomal abnormalities. Lipomas do not appear to be caused by what you eat or whether you are overweight or obese.

If you notice what could be a lipoma on your body, it's a good idea to have it checked out by a health care provider or dermatologist. This allows your provider to examine the lump and rule out other possibilities, such as liposarcoma, which is a rare cancerous tumor composed of fatty tissue that is firmer in texture than a lipoma. If liposarcoma is suspected, a biopsy would be requested to help diagnose the growth.

As long as a lipoma is not causing any discomfort, such as tenderness, irritation, pain, or infection, no treatment is necessary. In addition, the development of new lipomas and the continued growth of existing ones cannot be prevented by treatment. However, some people who have multiple lipomas, a large lipoma, or a lipoma that is situated close to a muscle, limiting movement, may consider having them surgically removed. If someone is unhappy with the appearance of lipoma(s) on his or her body, cosmetic removal of lipomas is an option, and it is usually not covered by many health insurance plans. In this case, how one forms scar tissue and the likely recurrence of lipomas need to be considered before proceeding with cosmetic surgery, to make sure that the end result will not look worse than the lipoma itself as it is.

You're taking many steps in the right direction — you've sought a professional diagnosis, done a search for lipomas for general information, and submitted your question here to get more details. Remember, if your health care provider's "wait and see" attitude makes you uncomfortable, you can see another health care provider for a second opinion. Columbia students can make an appointment at Medical Services online through Open Communicator, or by calling x4-2284.

Alice