What is a Lipoma?

A lipoma is a benign (non-cancerous) tumour that is made up of mature adipocytes (fat cells). These soft fatty lumps are the most common form of ‘lump’ in patients and are usually found in people over fifty. Lipomas are typically painless and usually grow on the back, abdomen, or limbs. What causes lipomas is still being researched; however, they are sometimes associated with an incident of trauma (i.e. bumping your leg or taking a fall). Lipomas are often less than 5cms in diameter, however in some cases they can grow above 20cms.    

How is it diagnosed?

Identifying the nature of your lump is certainly important. You will be asked come questions in order to begin the diagnosis process: When did you first notice it? Is there any associated pain? Is it getting bigger? A physical exam will also be required. This can help determine whether the lump is between the skin and the muscle layer, or if it is a deeper lesion. While physical examination and family history are important, it is not possible to confirm a lipoma diagnosis on this alone. If the lump is growing at a concerning rate, causing pain, or is larger than a golf ball; you may be referred to a sarcoma specialist such as Dr. Rhys Clark. These factors do not always indicate that the lump is metastatic but there should be a formal diagnosis to assess it. 

“If I have concerns about the lump, I will organise some imaging of it. An ultrasound can help determine whether the lump is solid, or fluid filled (like a cyst). However, an MRI is more effective in providing further information.” says Dr. Rhys Clark.

Deciding on surgery

If MRI imaging appears to suggest that your lump looks like a simple lipoma it may be safe to consider living with the lesion, provided you undergo regular monitoring and examination. It is worth noting that sometimes it is not possible to make a clear diagnosis from MRI scans alone and a tissue sample may be required. 

“It can often be difficult to determine a simple lipoma from a liposarcoma. Depending on the size and location of the lump, I can perform a small operation or a needle biopsy in order to get a more accurate diagnosis.”

If the diagnosis of a simple lipoma has been confirmed, you may consider having it surgically removed. The chances of a lipoma reappearing after surgical removal is uncommon. If you opt for surgical removal, the good news is that it is usually a simple day surgery and recovery time is minimal. You should only require two to three days off work depending on your job.

“Finding a lump of any kind can be understandably distressing. It’s something we all hope we never have to deal with. Understanding the nature of the diagnosis means I can help you make the best-informed decisions; the decisions that work for you.”