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Education Library: Lipomas

Introduction

Lipomas are fat capsules located underneath the skin. They are usually harmless and common. Lipomas look like round lumps. They may be small or grow to over an inch. They most frequently occur on the arms and trunk. Lipomas do not need to be removed unless they are in a bothersome location.

Anatomy

Your skin covers your body and protects it from the environment. Your skin is composed of three major layers, the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue. The epidermis is the outermost layer of your skin. It protects your inner skin layers.

The dermis is your second layer of skin. It is made up of connective tissue and provides structure. The dermis contains hair cells, sweat glands, and sebaceous glands that secrete oils to hydrate the skin.

Subcutaneous tissue composes your inner most layer of skin. Subcutaneous tissue contains fat cells. The fat cells insulate your body and make your skin appear plump and full. Below the subcutaneous tissue are fat tissues, your muscles, and your bones.

Causes

The exact cause of lipomas is unknown. It appears that there may be an inherited component. They may also develop following an injury to the area. Lipomas are not caused from being overweight.

Symptoms

Lipomas appear as round lumps underneath the skin. They may be small or grow to over an inch. Lipomas feel soft. They are generally moveable. Lipomas most frequently occur on the trunk, arms, armpits, neck, and upper thighs, but they may appear anywhere. You may have more than one lipoma.

Diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose a lipoma by looking at it and feeling it. In rare instances, a biopsy may be taken to rule out cancer if the lump appears suspicious. Lipomas generally do not lead to cancer, but some cancers may look similar to some lipomas. A biopsy involves removing a piece of tissue for examination.

Treatment

Lipomas are generally harmless and do not need to be removed. They may be removed if their appearance is bothersome or if they interfere with the movement of a joint. Lipomas may be removed with a simple surgery or by liposuction.

Am I at Risk?

You may have an increased risk for lipomas if your close relatives have them. They appear to run in families. You may also be at risk if you have received an injury.

Complications

Lipomas are harmless fatty tumors. They are not cancer. They do not cause cancer.

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