Looking for more info on lipomas

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.


Dear TONY,

Way to take note of changes in your body! A lipoma is a benign tumor of fatty tissue, meaning that spot on your neck is a non-cancerous lump of fat cells. These lumps are the most common benign growth of soft tissue and do not become cancerous over time. Typically less than two inches in diameter, they are located directly under the skin (between the skin and your muscle). Typically, no treatment is needed unless it’s painful, continues to grow, or if it’s bothering you.

Lipomas grow incredibly slowly. To the touch, they are often soft, doughy, painless, and moveable under the skin. Although they may occur anywhere on the body, lipomas are usually located on the chest, upper thighs, arms, neck, and shoulders. Men and women of any age can develop lipomas, though they are more often seen among folks between 40 to 60 years of age.

What causes these fatty lumps? The cause is unclear; however, they do appear to run in families. Additionally, some folks are more likely to develop them, particularly those with certain medical conditions, including rare genetic ones such as adiposis dolorosa, Cowden syndrome, and Gardner's syndrome. The good news is that you don't have to worry about that can of chips — lipomas do not appear to be caused by what you eat or whether you're overweight or obese.

If you notice what could be a lipoma on your body, it's recommended that you have it checked out by a health care provider or dermatologist (as you've done). S/he can then examine the lump and rule out other possibilities, such as liposarcoma, a rare, cancerous tumor composed of fatty tissue that's firmer in texture than a lipoma (if liposarcoma is suspected, a biopsy would be requested to inform a diagnosis). As long as the lipoma isn't causing you discomfort, though, no treatment is necessary. However, if it hurts, grows, impedes movement, or bugs you, the most common treatment is surgical removal. Other treatment options may include steroid injections (to shrink the growth) or liposuction.

You're certainly taking steps in the right direction — you've sought a professional diagnosis, done a search for general information, and asked for more details. All that said, if your health care provider's "wait and see" attitude makes you uncomfortable, you can always see another provider for a second opinion.


Last updated Nov 06, 2015
Originally published Dec 06, 2002

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