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Board-certified dermatologists and cosmetic and plastic surgeons at UT Southwestern Medical Center specialize in skin conditions such as lipoma. Using the most advanced treatment options, we provide care to remove lipomas and prevent them from recurring.

Experienced Treatment for Lipoma

A lipoma is slow-growing, fatty tissue that develops between the skin and the underlying layer of muscle. Lipomas feel soft and rubbery and move easily when touched.

Although they are considered tumors, lipomas are not cancer and are usually harmless. People can have more than one lipoma. Treatment generally isn't necessary unless the lipoma becomes painful or grows larger.

Dermatologists, cosmetic facial plastic surgeons, and plastic surgeons at UT Southwestern have extensive experience in evaluating and treating people with lipomas. Our experts are continuously involved in research to bring the latest advancements in patient care and treatment. We work to relieve symptoms, achieve a natural appearance, and improve quality of life for our patients.

Causes and Risk Factors of Lipoma

The causes of lipomas are not fully understood. They tend to occur more often in middle-aged men and women, and they can run in families.

Factors that can increase the risk of developing a lipoma include:

  • Age between 40 to 60
  • Previous injury to the area
  • Inherited conditions such as Madelung’s disease, Cowden syndrome, adiposis dolorosa, or Gardner’s syndrome

Symptoms of Lipoma

Lipomas can occur anywhere in the body but most commonly occur in the neck, shoulders, back, abdomen, arms, or thighs. Signs and symptoms that a lump might be a lipoma include:

  • Soft, doughy consistency
  • Easy mobility with slight finger pressure
  • Small size, usually less than 2 inches in diameter (but may grow quite large over time)
  • Pain, if the lipoma grows and presses on nearby nerves or if it has many blood vessels

Diagnosing Lipoma

Our experienced dermatologists, facial plastic surgeons, and plastic surgeons will conduct a thorough evaluation, which includes a:

  • Physical exam
  • Discussion of personal and family medical history
  • Discussion of symptoms

We can often diagnose a lipoma with this information, but we sometimes recommend further testing. This commonly involves special X-rays that allow the boundaries of the lipoma to be better determined. Rarely, further investigation is necessary to rule out cancer. Liposarcomas – cancerous tumors in fatty tissues – grow rapidly, don't move when touched, and are usually painful.

Further testing might involve:

  • Biopsy: Removal of a small tissue sample to examine under a microscope for signs of cancer
  • Imaging: An X-ray, MRI scan, or CT scan if the lipoma is large, has unusual features, or appears to go deeper into the muscle layer

Treatment for Lipoma

At UT Southwestern, our dermatologists and cosmetic and plastic surgeons typically recommend monitoring the lipoma if it’s small and not growing. If the lipoma grows large or begins to cause pain or other problems, it can be removed. Our procedures to remove a lipoma include:

  • Surgery: Our surgeons can take out a lipoma with a small cut made after an injection to numb the area. A technique known as minimal excision extraction can result in less scarring. People usually go home after the procedure, without the need for a hospital stay.
  • Liposuction: This treatment uses a special instrument to evacuate the fatty tumor with small incisions. Liposuction is reserved for very large lipomas to help minimize the scarring. When liposuction is used, there is the possibility that the lipoma may return in the distant future.

Giant lipomas (larger than 2 inches) may cause pain because they press on or grow into nearby nerves. We typically remove giant lipomas in an outpatient procedure, but patients might need anesthesia to make them sleep during the procedure.