Lipomas are benign tumors, usually found beneath the skin on the back, chest, neck, shoulders and arms. They are a collection of fat and the causes of lipoma are not clear, although some people think they may occur at a site of previous trauma. It is also thought that people who get lipomas may be genetically predisposed to them.
While the causes of lipoma are unclear, they are a common occurrence, found in about 1% of the population. The lipoma presents as a small fatty lump below the skin which moves slightly when pushed with a finger. They are slow-growing and may remain small or expand. Regardless of the causes of lipoma, they may develop at any stage of life, but seem to present more commonly in middle age. Very rarely they may be found in other parts of the body, such as the gastrointestinal tract or reproductive organs.
A lipoma is generally painless, and requires no immediate treatment. It is easily diagnosable by the general practitioner. Medical intervention should be sought if pain develops or the lipoma changes shape or texture. If the lipoma is located above a nerve or contains many blood vessels, slight pain may be experienced.
Should the doctor be unsure of the nature of the lump, it may be removed for biopsy. No link between lipoma and malignancy or cancer has been established. In some cases, where the lipoma is big, disfiguring, or in a very visible place, the lipoma may be removed for cosmetic reasons. Otherwise, regardless of the causes of lipoma, they require no treatment at all.
Although the actual causes of lipoma are not known, it seems that some risk factors do exist which may make some people more prone to developing them. These include genetic predisposition, age and other conditions such as Cowden syndrome, which is a genetic condition. People between 40 and 60 years old are more likely to develop a lipoma.
Should the doctor decide to remove the lipoma, the procedure is a minor one and is usually performed on an out-patient basis, requiring no overnight stay in a hospital. The area around the lipoma will be injected with a local anesthetic to prevent any pain and a small incision will be made in the skin. The lipoma will be removed through the cut and it will be stitched up. A slight scar may remain.