Lipomas: Non-Cancerous Tumor

Medically reviewed by: Gary H. Hoffman, MD

What Is A Lipoma?

Lipomas are fairly common, and in fact are the most common non-cancerous tumor diagnosed. The growth is a pocket of fat cells just under the skin. While these tumors are most common on the skin of the chest, back and shoulders, they may also grow in the gastrointestinal tract. The colon is the most common location.

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While these soft tissue tumors are made benign cells, it is important to ensure any unusual growth is checked by an experienced doctor to rule out the chance that is may require treatment.

How Are Lipomas Diagnosed?

If you have a growth that may be a lipoma, there is no reason to be alarmed. In the great majority of cases, these tumors cause no ill effects. In order to be sure, you should have the growth evaluated thoroughly. Many well-trained specialists can diagnose an external lipoma based on sight alone. Since most gastrointestinal lipomas cause no symptoms, they are often found during routine testing such as a colonoscopy or radiological testing.

Whether the lipoma is internal or external, most can be diagnosed in a very straightforward manner. If the diagnosis isn’t obvious, follow-up testing may be required to accurately classify the growth. This may include complete removal or taking a small sample from inside the lipoma.

Once you’ve received a diagnosis that the growth is, in fact, a benign lipoma, your doctor should be able to answer any questions you have. Your doctor will be able to recommend removal or other treatment options if there are medical complications or cosmetic concerns. In the majority of people, no further treatment is required for this type of soft tissue mass.

What Causes Lipomas?

To this point, the cause of lipomas has not been discovered. There is also no way to reduce the risk of a lipoma, and some people may have numerous benign soft tissue tumors. There seems to be a genetic component to the development of lipomas, because they are often seen in family members. They are also more likely to occur as people age, making seniors more likely to develop one of the soft tissue growths. Lipomas are, however, diagnosed in people of all ages.

Does It Need To Be Removed?

Once the growth has been diagnosed, your doctor will discuss treatment options with you. For most people, nothing has to be done. In general, lipomas tend to be small; they are less than two inches in diameter in many cases. Most doctors will recommend removal if the mass causes any issues.

Lipomas themselves do not cause pain, but their location may cause problems. When external lipomas grow near nerve endings, they can cause pain by putting pressure on the nerve. Pain may also be caused by lipomas that contain a large number of blood vessels. Most internal lipomas found in the colon are small and cause few issues. Larger masses, though, may cause constipation, abdominal pain, bleeding that is evident during bowel movements and other problems.

In some cases, a growth may need to be removed because it cannot be positively identified as a lipoma. Liposarcoma is a cancer that grows in in fatty soft tissues. They may be identified because they grow much more rapidly than most lipomas, and they are also frequently painful. A biopsy or medical imaging tests such as an MRI may be used to reach a definitive diagnosis.

How Are Lipomas Treated?

When a lipoma does require treatment, there are a number of options. Your doctor will help you make the best decision based on the location of your soft tissue growth, as well as your general health and the size of the growth. All lipoma treatments are typically done as short outpatient procedures. Possible treatment options include:

  • Surgical removal: Surgical removal is the most common way external lipomas are treated. Removing the growth rarely leads to recurrence, and will eliminate any problems caused by the mass immediately.
  • Endoscopic removal: A tube with a camera and light are used to remove many problematic growths in the gastrointestinal tract. Special tools can be fed through these tubes and used to surgically remove the mass.  Lipomas of the colon are usually left untreated.
  • Biopsy: While not actually a treatment, some lipomas may need to be tested further to ensure they are actually benign tumors and not cancerous growths. A needle is usually used to remove a small amount of tissue from the mass, and then sent for pathology testing.
  • Liposuction: Liposuction may be used to reduce the size of the growth, although the entire lipoma cannot be removed without surgery. During liposuction, a special needle is used to suction some of the fatty tissue from the growth. The procedure takes only a few minutes, and recovery consists of only a bit of soreness in the area.

Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates

The board certified surgeons of Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates are lipoma specialists, diagnosing both external and internal masses as well as performing removal procedures. They are specialists in all diseases of the colon, rectum and anus. By calling (310) 273-2310, you can schedule a confidential appointment and discuss any of your questions with your physician.

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