A lipoma is a soft, fatty lump that grows under the skin. It is harmless and can usually be left alone.
Lipomas can occur on any area of skin where there are fat cells, but are usually seen on the shoulders, neck, chest, arms and back. They range from the size of a pea to a few centimetres across, and they grow very slowly.
About 1 in 100 people develop a lipoma, so they are fairly common. It is unusual to develop more than one or two lipomas, unless you have a rare inherited condition called familial multiple lipomatosis, which causes lipomas to develop all over the body.
When to see your GP
You can usually tell if a bump is a lipoma by pressing it. It should feel smooth and soft, like rubber or dough, and may move about under the skin.
If you unsure whether it is a lipoma or you are worried it could be something more serious, see your GP. They can usually confirm whether the lump is a lipoma just by examining it. If there is any doubt about the diagnosis, the lipoma may be removed.
A lipoma is just a collection of fat cells and there is no evidence that it will turn into skin cancer.
Also see your GP if your lump:
- changes in any way
- grows back after it has been removed
- feels hard
In this case, your doctor will want to rule out liposarcoma, a very rare type of soft tissue cancer (see the Cancer Research UK website for more information).
Getting a lipoma removed
You may want to have your lipoma removed if it's large or in an obvious place and affecting your self-esteem.
However, you will need to pay for this procedure privately. This is because the removal of a lipoma is regarded as cosmetic surgery, which is rarely available through the NHS. Generally, the NHS will only carry out cosmetic surgery procedures if the problem is affecting your physical or mental health.
A lipoma may also need to be removed if it is causing discomfort. For example, it may be pressing on a nerve and causing pain.
Some privately practising GPs will be able to remove lipomas. Otherwise, you will need to have this procedure done in hospital as a day patient (you do not need to stay overnight).
You will be given an injection of local anaesthetic, which will numb the area, before the doctor cuts the skin over the bump and removes the lipoma. The wound will be closed with stitches and you will be left with a fine scar.