Last reviewed by Editorial Team on August 13th, 2018.
What is Lipoma?
Lipoma is the most common benign tumor that is composed mostly of adipose tissues and develops in the subcutaneous tissues. It is a slow growing tumor that sometimes appears in solitary or may occur in a multitude.
Lipoma is can affect both men and women of adult age but is mostly evident in middle aged individuals. Lipoma in solitary is common in women while in men, it is often in multitude. It can affect people from all age levels but very seldom affects children yet it can occur as part of an inherited disease.
Lipoma is typically small in size and is mostly found in the areas of the shoulders, arms, upper back, upper thighs and buttocks and is rarely found in the deeper tissues of the shoulders, thighs and calf. It is generally a harmless condition and is non-life threatening although the growth of the tumor can be bothersome. Lipoma is usually not painful and if it does become painful, the lump can be removed surgically. It is a benign tumor that has no potential of becoming malignant and no capability of spreading to another or nearby tissue and cannot extend to other parts of the body distant from the original lump.
Lipoma is basically asymptomatic that it sometimes remains unnoticed until it grows into a size that is large enough and palpable enough. Lipoma is distinct from many other types of lipoma and should not cause for alarm.
The characteristics of the lump in Lipoma which makes it different from any other type of skin tumors are:
- The tumor in Lipoma is rather dome shaped or shaped like an egg
- The lump feels rubbery and soft and easily slides when prodded with the finger
- The lump develops just under the skin or in the subcutaneous tissue
- The size of the tumor in Lipoma varies in size and can be as small as 5 centimeters in diameter or less but can grow larger
- The lump can become painful if it grows large enough to compress the adjacent nerves or at any rate they contain numerous blood vessels
On the other hand, the symptoms of lipoma will also depend on the location where it developed. The signs and symptoms according to the location of tumor growth may include the following:
- Respiratory distress may occur in relation to lipoma in the airways
- Involvement of the intermuscular septa can result to a palpable swelling when the affected muscle contracts
- Pain and joint dysfunction are potential in lipoma that develops in the joint spaces
- Limited ambulation or range of motion is also potential in lipoma occurring in the joint spaces
- Regurgitation and reflux including vomiting may occur if lipoma develops in the esophagus
- Cord compression may also occur if lipoma develops in the spinal cord
Lipoma is composed of sub-types which are classified according to the presentation of the tumor that has developed and as seen under the microscope.
- Atypical lipoma develops in the deeper fat and is composed of large amounts of cells.
- Spindle cell lipoma has a wide distribution and commonly affects female. The cells are similar to the appearance of rods. The growth of the tumor is somewhat slow and is usually asymptomatic.
- Angiolipoma is composed of a hefty amount of blood vessels aside from the fat. The lump in the subcutaneous tissue may be painful.
- Conventional lipoma is characterized by the usual lipoma which is generally white in color.
- Myelolipoma is lipoma that contains not only fat but is also composed of tissues that are responsible in producing blood vessels.
- Hibernoma is lipoma with fat that is rather brownish in color instead of the usual white colored fat.
- Pleomorphic lipoma is lipoma that is composed of fat with cells in different sizes and shapes.
- Chondroid lipoma is made up of firm tumor that is yellowish in color and which commonly occurs in the legs of women.
- Neural fibrolipoma is lipoma that develops in the nerve trunk which causes nerve compression.
- Superficial subcutaneous lipoma is regarded as the most common type of lipoma that develops in the subcutaneous tissue. It is typically found in the areas of the body where fat can be found.
The exact cause of Lipoma remains unclear. Genetic involvement is speculated to trigger the onset of Lipoma although this remains to be studied. It is however, considered to increase the chances of developing Lipoma among predisposed individuals.
Lipoma is also being linked with post trauma or so called post-trauma lipoma. Minor injuries are believed to contribute to the development of lipoma but this claim remains controversial and needs to be studied further. A blunt blow in the body or in any body part is also considered to cause the incidence of Lipoma but this too remains controversial.
Correlation of Lipoma in certain occupation or in particular exposure to chemicals and radiation including other harmful environmental factors are also speculated in the onset. These however, remain to be studied and there is still no clear proof to this claim.
Risk factors are considered to increase the chances of developing Lipoma and such include the following:
- Age is one factor considered where individuals between the ages of 40 to 60 years are at high risk for Lipoma as the incidence is usually higher during this age
- Certain underlying condition such as Cowden syndrome, Madelung disease, Gardner’s syndrome and Adiposis dolorosa are believed to be contributing factor or increases the risk for developing Lipoma
Lipoma is generally a harmless and non-life threatening condition that treatment is often not necessary unless the growth causes significant pain and for cosmetic purposes as well. Numerous factors should be considered prior to recommendation of treatment.
The factors considered prior to treatment of Lipoma will include the following:
- The size of the tumor or if the tumor has grown a significant size or is large enough to cause pain and interfere with the usual function of the affected body part
- The number of tumors that grow or if it has grown in a multitude and at the location that may cause cosmetic concern
- Treatment is necessary if pain is present
- Treatment is necessary if there is an existing family history of the condition or a history of skin cancer in the family
Steroid treatment through injection may help in Lipoma. It is beneficial in reducing the size of the tumor although steroid injection does not necessarily resolve Lipoma completely.
Lipoma is generally removed if it causes significant pain and has grown large enough to interfere with the bodily function. Lipoma can be removed in accordance with the preference of the patient mostly for cosmetic concern.
Simple excision or removal of the lipoma can be done to completely remove the tumor. The procedure requires a local anesthesia and will allow the patient only an out-patient basis. Recovery will depend on the size and location of the tumor.
Liposuction is another method of removing a lipoma. This procedure works well in diminishing the size of the tumor with the use of a needle and a large sized syringe.
Lipoma has no definite treatment except for surgical removal which does not guarantee a recurrence. The exact cause of Lipoma is still unknown that certain methods of preventing the occurrence of Lipoma remain elusive.