Ask the Doctor: What is a fatty tumor?

Q. I’ve had a couple of “fatty” tumors removed. What are these and are they something to be concerned about?


A.  Fatty tumors are called Lipomas.  They are the most common type of noncancerous growths and do not become malignant or cancerous.  Lipomas can be found anywhere on the body but most typically pop up on the upper part of the arms, armpits, neck, torso, and thighs.



 Development of lipomas do run in families and as such is likely to have genetic factors playing a role in their formation.


surgeon 300x199 Ask the Doctor: What is a fatty tumor? Photo

You might not need surgery for a fatty tumor

Symptoms of Lipomas

The most annoying symptom of these fatty tumors is that others may notice them causing constant unwanted attention, especially during the summer months when body parts are not covered by clothing.   Occasionally they are inconvenient due to their location.

Typically, Lipomas are:

  • Movable
  • Not painful
  • Have a rubbery consistency
  • Constant in size or increase extremely slowly
  • Small  (1-3 cm or .4 to 1.2 inches)
  • Felt just below the skin surface, between the skin and the muscle layer underlying it.


Risks and Occurrence for Lipomas

The cause of lipomas is unknown and occurs equally in men and women, though multiple lipomas are found more commonly in men.

They are found in every age group although it is discovered more commonly in middle age.

Multiple lipomas are at an increased incidence in certain conditions but having lipomas does not mean that you suffer from any of the following disorders:

  • Gardner’s syndrome
  • Adiposis dolorosa
  • Cowden syndrome
  • Madelung disease


Lipoma Diagnosis

Diagnosis is usually made by palpation but confirmation may be done by biopsy (taking a tissue sampling) and ultrasound.  Suspicion of the tumor being a cancerous liposarcoma, would be aroused if the lump is painful and growing rapidly.


Lipoma Treatment

There is no medication or action that can shrink the size of the fatty tumor or prevent one from occurring.

While lipomas don’t require treatment as a rule, surgery may be considered if the fatty tumor:

  • Becomes inflamed or infected
  • Oozes foul discharge
  • Causes pain or tenderness
  • Inhibits joint motions
  • Becomes ugly and annoying

Surgery, which is done either in an outpatient surgicenter or the doctor’s office, consists of injecting a local anesthetic around the tumor, making a small cut in the skin above it and popping it out.  The incision is then suture closed

If the lipoma is deep or in an awkward location for simple retrieval, the operating room is used with regional or general anesthesia for removal.

Ultimately, there is no cause for alarm.  As you are not at a higher risk of developing cancer due to having lipomas, you can take a deep breath, and relax.