Lipomas are benign tumors that form under the skin. This article will talk about its treatment methods, as well as causes and symptoms of this condition.
Lipomas aren’t cancerous
According to the American Cancer Society, lipomas are benign, non-cancerous tumors. Unlike malignant tumors, they do not spread throughout the body and aren’t fatal.
Lipomas (also known as mesenchymal tumors) grow in the form of a fibrous capsule, under the skin and are primarily made up of fat (adipose) tissue. Out of all the known non-cancerous soft tissue growths, lipomas are the most common. They occur in people of any age, though it is a rare condition among children. Most people get them on the upper arms, the neck, torso, upper thighs, and armpits. It is a fatty tumor that grows between the skin and the muscle tissues underneath. It can occur in any part of the body.
How to Identify a Lipoma?
People hardly notice a growing lipoma until it has grown substantially. They are generally dome-shaped and may grow from 2 cm to 10 cm in diameter. You can identify a lipoma through certain characteristics like they easily move under applied finger pressure. They are not tender but feel kind of doughy to touch. Lipomas can turn out to be painful if they are pressing on the blood vessels and nerves located in vicinity. The final confirmation or accurate identification can only be done by a doctor, who will run diagnostic tests.
All cases of lipomas are subcutaneous in form. That is, they mostly occur under the skin tissue. Most cases of lipoma growth tend to occur in adulthood, but they become more noticeable in middle age. Men are more likely to be affected by multiple lipomas, while women are more likely to get solitary ones.
Treatment is dependent on the type of lipoma that is encountered. There are various types which differ in characteristics and location. Here is a brief description of each.
- Angiolipoma: This type of lipoma causes a lot of pain and has all the typical characteristics mentioned above.
- Angiolipoleiomyoma: This form is solitary and involves a connective tissue, along with blood vessels and fat.
- Neural Fibrolipoma: This is the kind which pressurizes nerves.
- Chondroid Lipoma: These types grow on legs and are generally known to be yellowish and deep-seated. They mostly occur in women.
- Spindle cell lipoma: This type is mostly prevalent in men and grows on the back, neck, and shoulders.
- Pleomorphic Lipoma: These are types of spindle cell lipomas, that mostly affect old men and can be identified by floret giant cells.
- Intradermal Spindle cell lipoma: This type mostly affects women and grows on the head, neck, and trunk.
- Hibernoma: This is a tumor made of fat or adipose tissue.
The reasons for occurrence of lipomas, like many tumors, are unknown and research is still underway, to determine the exact cause. However, it has been observed that people may be genetically predisposed to get them. It often runs in families. Being overweight or obese is not a cause. It has also been observed that minor injuries may cause a lipoma. Some of them occur due to soft tissue trauma, as a result of impact in a region, but the exact mechanism that leads to their growth is not understood.
Being benign tumors, it isn’t necessary that lipomas be removed through surgery, if they aren’t bothersome. However, if they have grown to a larger size, are painful, seem unwanted from an cosmetic perspective, or if there is a concern of a liposarcoma (cancerous tumor) developing, they can be surgically removed. Most procedures are invasive, involving excision, however, some non-invasive techniques are also available. Following are some of the treatment methods.
It is the removal of a lipoma, with a surgical scalpel. In most of these excision procedures, local anesthesia is administered. However, general anesthesia may be administered, in case the surgery involves the removal of multiple lipomas. Incisions are made through subcutaneous fat, along the Langer lines, the tumor is removed, and the skin is sutured to conclude the operation. Care is taken to minimize scarring of the skin. The stitches are generally removed after 5 to 14 days. The recurrence rate in excised lipomas is about 1% to 2%.
Liposuction is the removal of excess fat through suction. This treatment method is generally opted for, if there is a connective tissue component involved and if the lipoma is soft. There is a lesser probability of scarring in this procedure, but it may not ensure the complete removal of the fat tissue. A small incision is made in the lipoma site and a vacuum device, usually in the shape of a cannula is inserted, to break the fat tissue and suck it out.
This is a controversial technique, still in the experimental stage, which may be used to treat lipomas that are not greater than 2.5 cm. Corticosteroids, phosphatidylcholine, or sodium deoxycholate is injected into the lipoma to trigger lipolysis, through atrophy of the adipose tissue. It takes 3 to 4 weeks for the tumor to reduce, but complete removal may not be achieved. Fibrosis and scarring might also occur, and there is a possibility of recurrence. Ergo, usage of this technique is highly controversial among medical practitioners, though it is the most inexpensive of all.
In case of large gastrointestinal tract lipomas, surgical resection or excision is recommended by most physicians. The atypical types that occur in places like the heart, adrenal glands, or the brain are removed through excision, if they are observed to be potentially harmful.
Disclaimer: This article is for reference purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a certified medical practitioner.