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What is a Neck Lipoma?

By Laura Evans
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A lipoma is a fatty lump that most often sits under the skin, but can also develop within muscle or internal organs. When located underneath the skin, they are typically benign, slow-growing, and painless. It is possible to have more than one on the body, so a person with a neck lipoma might have others located in places such as the back, shoulders, arms, abdomen, or thighs.

Why do they Grow?

Sometimes referred to as adipose tumors, lipomas are overgrowths of fatty tissue that develop in a specific location, typically between layers of skin and muscle. This is the case with neck lipomas, which usually lie just beneath the skin’s surface. Researchers and medical professionals don’t know why they develop, but the tendency to develop them runs in families; for example, an inherited condition called familial multiple lipomatosis causes them to grow all over the body. In some cases, a lump might grow in response to an injury in the affected area.

Appearance and Symptoms

A benign neck lipoma looks like a lump underneath the skin. It is usually soft and can be moved or squashed slightly with a small amount of force. Most are between 0.4 inches (1 cm) and 1.2 inches (3 cm) in diameter. While they tend to be painless, some pain can result if a lipoma grows close to nerves.

Lipomas often resemble another type of benign lump called a cyst. Both have similar textures and appearances, so it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two. In most cases only a medical professional can make a conclusive diagnosis.

Most of the time, lipomas are no cause for concern. They typically grow very slowly, and often stop growing altogether once they reach a certain size. Lipomas are benign and cannot turn into cancerous tumors, but there is a type of cancer called liposarcoma that can resemble a lipoma in the early stages. In general, any lump that is painful or tender, inflamed or infected, or has a foul smell or discharge should be examined for diagnosis. A cancerous lump is more likely to grow quickly and cause pain than a benign one.

Diagnosis

Liposarcoma is a rare cancer, but even so it is worthwhile for a person with an undiagnosed lump to have it examined by a professional. Diagnosis usually involves discussion of symptoms and a physical examination. In some cases, a sample of tissue might be removed for a biopsy.

If this cancer is suspected, a patient is typically referred for additional tests, such as a computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test, or ultrasound. These allow medical experts to see what the lump looks like inside the body, including how deep it extends into the tissues and whether it is associated with any blood vessels. Diagnosis is then made on the basis of these test results together with the biopsy result.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Most lipomas do not grow very large or cause unpleasant symptoms, and in many cases, no treatment is necessary. Sometimes, a person might wish to have treatment for a growth that causes pain, grows to an uncomfortable size, or is considered unsightly. A lipoma located on the neck could fall into any of these categories, depending on how it affects other tissues in the area.

The preferred treatment is typically one or more steroid injections. Steroids are used because they break down fatty tissue, allowing the body to remove it from the area. If a person is unable to tolerate this treatment, injections of a biological molecule called phosphatidylcholine might be used instead, as it has a similar effect. Over time, the treatment causes the lipoma to shrink with no scarring, although a small lump of tissue usually remains.

Surgical Treatment

If a course of injections doesn't reduce the size of the lipoma, another option is a minor surgical procedure called liposuction. In this treatment, the lump is removed via suction through a small incision, causing much less scarring than open surgery. This procedure requires only a local anesthetic, and most people can go home the same day they are treated. The main disadvantage is that, as with steroid injections, small amounts of fatty tissue are typically left behind.

Lipoma excision, or surgery, is the only treatment that can entirely remove a lump. After surgery, only 1 to 2% grow back. Most of the time, a neck lipoma can be removed in an outpatient center or even a doctor's office. After injection of a local anesthetic, an incision is made in the skin, the lump is removed, and the incision is closed with stitches. A large lipoma, or one that is complicated by association with muscle or nerve tissue, might require a more involved surgical procedure. In these cases, a person might have a general anesthesia in an operating room and perhaps an overnight hospital stay.

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Discussion Comments
By anon177468 — On May 18, 2011

I had my Lipoma removed today at Stoke Mandeville Hospital UK. The surgeon, Ian Botrill, was excellent, the staff nurse, Heather Meserva lovely, all the other nurses were very caring.

The British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to cut a lot of this out. Please help England with this aristocratic nitwit!

By StreamFinder — On Jan 20, 2011

Do you know, I recently read an article that said that many old men were at risk for something called a pleomorphic lipoma.

These often appear like neck tumors or lipomas, but they can also show up on the back or buttocks of older men, and the weird thing is, nobody is really sure what causes them.

Though pleomorphic lipomas, like spindle cell lipomas are easy to recognize, and both behave the same way, scientists just don't know what causes them -- just that they usually show up on old men.

How weird is that?

By FirstViolin — On Jan 18, 2011

How can you tell the difference between a lipoma or say, a cyst? I mean, they're both neck lumps, and they both seem to have pretty similar characteristics, what with both of them being a little squishy and able to be moved under the skin.

Is there something I'm missing here, or is there a way to tell the difference at home, without a diagnostic test, I mean?

Does anyone know anything about this?

By TunaLine — On Jan 17, 2011

Thanks for this information -- I found it particularly helpful how you listed the pros and cons of the different methods for removing a neck lipoma.

I have had a small fatty lipoma on my neck for about ten years now, and since it doesn't really bother me and doesn't seem to be growing, I've never seen any real need to remove it.

Of course, when it first showed, up, I was a little freaked out -- hey, wouldn't you be if a lump just showed up out of the blue one day? -- so I went to my doctor, and he explained to me basically what this article said.

So I've just left it for the time being, and since it doesn't seem to be getting any bigger, I'll probably just leave it until something else changes.

Anyway, the next time somebody looks at me bug-eyed and asks me what's going on with my neck, I will definitely send them here!

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