Diagnosis

To diagnose a lipoma, your doctor may perform:

  • A physical exam
  • A tissue sample removal (biopsy) for lab examination
  • An ultrasound 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 tissue

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, MRI or CT scan is typically done if your doctor suspects liposarcoma.

Treatment

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. Lipoma treatments include:

  • Surgical removal. Most lipomas are removed surgically by cutting them out. Recurrences after removal are uncommon. Possible side effects are scarring and bruising.

    A technique known as minimal excision extraction may result in less scarring.

  • Steroid injections. This treatment shrinks the lipoma but usually doesn't eliminate it. The use of injections before surgical removal is being studied.
  • Liposuction. This treatment uses a needle and a large syringe to remove the fatty lump.

Preparing for your appointment

You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. You may then be referred to a doctor who specializes in skin disorders (dermatologist).

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.

What you can do

  • List your symptoms, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
  • Make a list of medications, vitamins and supplements you're taking.
  • List questions to ask your doctor.

Preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For lipoma, some basic questions to ask include:

  • What caused this growth?
  • Is it cancer?
  • Do I need tests?
  • Will this lump always be there?
  • Can I have it removed?
  • What's involved in removing it? Are there risks?
  • Is it likely to return, or am I likely to get another?
  • Do you have any brochures or other resources I can have? What websites do you recommend?

Don't hesitate to ask other questions that occur to you.

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?
Jan. 22, 2015
References
  1. Goldstein BG, et al. Overview of benign lesions of the skin. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 4, 2014.
  2. Lipoma. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00631. Accessed Nov. 4, 2014.
  3. Goldsmith LA, et al., eds. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 8th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/book.aspx?bookid=392. Accessed Nov. 4, 2014.
  4. Wolff K, et al. Fitzpatrick's Color Atlas and Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology. 7th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2013. http://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/book.aspx?bookId=682. Accessed Nov. 4, 2014.
  5. Cosulich MT, et al. Minimal excision extraction of lipomas. JAMA Dermatology. 2014;150:1360.
  6. Amber KT, et al. Injection therapy for the management of superficial subcutaneous lipomas. The Journal of Clinical Aesthetic Dermatology. 2014;7:46.