What Is a Lipoma and When Should it Be Removed?

If you have an unusual growth under your skin, your first thought might be cancer. But not all growths are cancerous. In fact, one type of growth — called a lipoma — is completely benign. Of course, just because a growth isn’t cancerous, that doesn’t mean it can’t cause problems. 

At South Florida Surgical Group in the Kendall suburb of Miami, Florida, Michael Renfrow, MD, FACS and Steven Kanter, MD, FACS use advanced approaches to diagnosing and treating symptomatic lipomas, helping patients get the care they need for optimal health and wellness. If you think you might have a lipoma, here’s what you should know about their diagnosis and treatment processes.

Lipoma basics

A lipoma is a benign (noncancerous) soft tissue growth that develops just below the skin’s surface. If you touch a lipoma, it tends to feel a little “squishy” or movable. That’s because it’s filled with fatty material. Lipomas themselves aren’t painful, but if one grows to be large, it may press on nerves or other structures that can cause pain.

Lipomas affect about one out of every 1,000 people, occurring most commonly during middle age. Both men and women can develop these benign growths, but they tend to be more common among women. Researchers don’t know exactly what causes lipomas, but it could be that some people have genes that make them more prone to developing them.

Removing a lipoma

A lipoma tends to grow pretty slowly, and if it doesn't cause pain or other symptoms, it usually can be left alone. Of course, some people prefer to have a lipoma removed for cosmetic reasons, even if the growth itself is not causing problems. 

Lipomas that grow quickly, cause pain, or are located in deeper tissues may need to be removed to prevent future problems. Sometimes, a deeper or fast-growing lipoma is actually a cancerous growth called a liposarcoma. For these growths, our surgeons perform a biopsy to check for cancer cells before removing it.

Typical benign lipomas are removed using a process called excision. A small incision is made over the lipoma, and the growth is removed, either whole or in pieces it’s large. Most lipomas are removed using only a local anesthetic to numb the area. Afterward, the area is bandaged and you can be discharged home.

Once the lipoma is removed, the surgeon sends the tissue to a lab so it can be examined. The incision site is small, so it heals fairly quickly with minimal scarring.

Learn more about lipoma treatment

Of course, as with any unusual growth, you should never try to diagnose a lipoma on your own. Just because a growth isn’t causing pain or other symptoms, that doesn’t mean it can be ignored. Any growth should be evaluated to ensure it’s not cancerous. For a benign lipoma, early diagnosis is also important so its growth can be evaluated over time.

If you have any type of unusual growth on your body, scheduling an evaluation is the first step toward making sure you get the treatment you need as early as possible. To learn more about lipoma treatment or to have a suspicious growth evaluated, call the office at 305-279-9522, or use our online form to request an appointment today.

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