A lipoma is a fatty mass under the skin that can occur anywhere on the body. It can be painful, but often times is felt by a patient or spouse and can increase in size over time. These are best diagnosed by a physical exam or ultrasound. In most cases, these are removed as an outpatient procedure either in the office or at a surgery center.
A cyst is similar to a lipoma, in that it presents as a mass just under the skin and can occur anywhere on the body. A cyst, however, can present more acutely as an infection or even rupture draining pus. The treatment for a cyst is removal, unless it is infected, in which case the infection must be treated before it can be removed.
To diagnose a lipoma, your doctor may perform:
- A physical exam
- A tissue sample removal (biopsy) for lab examination
- An X-ray or other imaging test, such as an MRI or CT scan, if the lipoma is large, has unusual features or appears to be deeper than the fatty layer under the skin.
There's a very small chance that a lump resembling a lipoma may actually be a form of cancer called liposarcoma. Liposarcomas — cancerous tumors in fatty tissues — grow rapidly, don't move under the skin and are usually painful. A biopsy or an MRI or CT scan is typically done if your doctor suspects liposarcoma.
Often times no treatment is usually necessary for a lipoma. However, if the lipoma bothers you, is painful or is growing, your doctor might recommend that it be removed. The treatment for lipoma is a surgical excision. Recurrences after removal are uncommon. Possible side effects are scarring and bruising. A technique known as minimal excision extraction may result in less scarring.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, too, including:
- When did you notice the lump?
- Has it grown?
- Have you had similar growths in the past?
- Is the lump painful?
- Have others in your family had similar lumps?