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What is a lipoma?

A lipoma is a lump made up of fat cells. It is most often found just under your skin on your shoulders, back, or neck, but can be found in other areas of your body. Multiple lipomas found in different areas of your body is called lipomatosis. Lipomas normally grow very slowly and rarely turn into cancer.

What increases my risk of a lipoma?

The exact cause of a lipoma is not known. Single lipomas are more common in women. Men are more likely to have lipomatosis. The following may increase your risk of getting a lipoma or lipomatosis:

  • Family history of lipoma
  • Certain medical conditions, such as liver disease, or problems controlling your blood sugar
  • Obesity
  • A blunt blow or injury to your body

What are the signs and symptoms of a lipoma?

Lipomas can occur anywhere in your body and cause signs and symptoms depending on where they occur. Most often, you have a soft, round, movable lump just under your skin. The lump may be painful, but this is not common.

How is a lipoma diagnosed?

Your caregiver will examine you. He may feel the area around your lipoma. Tell your caregiver about any signs and symptoms you have. You may need any of the following:

  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures on a monitor. An ultrasound may be done to look at your lipoma and surrounding tissue.
  • X-ray: An x-ray may be taken to check for lipomas in your muscles and other areas of your body.
  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your lipoma and nearby tissue. You may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.
  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your lipoma and nearby tissue. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Biopsy: During this procedure, a small amount of tissue is removed from your lipoma. The tissue sample will be sent to a lab for tests.

How is a lipoma treated?

You may need treatment if your lipoma grows and causes symptoms such as pain. You may choose to have your lipoma treated if you do not like how it looks. Treatment may include any of the following:

  • Steroid injections: This is given as a shot into your lipoma to help it shrink.
  • Liposuction: During this procedure, your caregiver will use a syringe with a needle to remove your lipoma. He may also insert a scope and tools through a small incision. A scope is a thin, flexible tube with a light and tiny camera on the end. This will help him see and remove your lipoma.
  • Surgical removal: Your caregiver will remove your lipoma through an incision in your skin. Anesthesia medicine will be used to numb the surgery site. A drain may be put into your skin to remove extra blood or fluid from your surgery area. The incision may be closed with stitches and a bandage may cover your wound.

What are the risks of a lipoma?

  • Treatment for your lipoma may cause pain, swelling, and bruising. Liposuction may cause dimpling or color changes in your skin. Surgical removal of your lipoma may cause a scar. With surgery, a seroma (pocket of fluid) may form in nearby tissue or organs. Your nerves may be damaged and cause numbness or tingling in your skin. Your muscles may also be injured, and you may bleed more than expected or get an infection. You may need to have more than one treatment for your lipoma. Even with treatment, your lipoma may not be completely removed, and it may increase in size again.
  • Without treatment, your lipoma may become large and painful. A lipoma in your bowel may block bowel movements. It may also injure nearby tissue causing a hemorrhage (heavy bleeding). Lipomas in your neck and throat may cause you to choke, have trouble breathing, and be life-threatening.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have blood in your bowel movement.
  • Your lipoma increases in size.
  • Your lipoma is painful or you have pain in the area of your lipoma.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You feel a lump in your throat or have trouble swallowing.
  • You suddenly have trouble breathing.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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