Lumps and Bumps: Lipomas

What are lipomas?

Lipomas are very common benign growths of fat.  They usually present as a palpable lump just below the skin, and are somewhat soft or rubbery to the touch.  They are easy to move around and generally non-tender.  However, depending on their location (such as the forearm or thighs), they can be annoying and slightly painful.  They often grow slowly, and usually when they become obviously visible is when most patients want them out.  It is common to have more than one, and some people have dozens.  In these cases there is often a familial pattern, and lipomas will likely continue to pop up throughout a person’s lifetime.

Can lipomas be dangerous?

Lipomas are not dangerous and usually the diagnosis is obvious just by their presentation and appearance.  Even so, we typically send lipomas for pathological diagnosis.  Occasionally, other types of benign tumors or cysts can mimic lipomas.  Some lipomas can be in a deeper layer, even within the muscle.  These lipomas are more difficult to remove, and pathologic diagnosis is essential to rule out rare types of cancer, typically sarcoma.

How are lipomas treated?

Most lipomas are easily removed under local anesthesia, but when multiple lipomas are present, it is often easier and quicker to remove them under general anesthesia.  This is done by Dr. Mackenzie as an outpatient at Surgical Arts Surgery Center in Santa Barbara.  Lipomas can be discreet, well-circumscribed masses that come out easily and completely, or they can be irregular, with less defined borders.  In the latter case, there is a higher rate of recurrence.  Lipomas are almost always removed surgically as opposed to using liposuction, although liposuction has been used on larger lipomas.  Liposuction for lipomas is usually not a great idea as there is likely a higher rate of recurrence, and no proper pathological diagnosis can be made.  Removing a lipoma surgically will create a scar, but the scar will be shorter than the diameter of the lipoma, and often only a few millimeters long.  Pain is usually minimal and controlled with non-narcotic medications.  Insurance should cover removal of lipomas and our office can help determine coverage.  Contact our office for an appointment with Dr. Mackenzie at 805-898-0700.

Douglas J. Mackenzie M.D., F.A.C.S.

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