Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on September 02, 2021
3 min read

A lipoma is a lump of fat that grows in your body’s soft tissues. Though it’s classified as a tumor, it’s usually harmless.

It’s the most common tumor to form beneath your skin. About 1 person out of every 1,000 will get one at some point. You most often find them in your upper body, arms, or thighs.

They usually appear as small, soft lumps. They’re typically less than 2 inches wide. You could have more than one.

When you press on the lipoma, it may feel doughy. It will move easily with finger pressure. They don’t normally hurt, but they can cause pain if they bump against nearby nerves or have blood vessels running through them.

It isn’t clear what causes them. Middle-aged men and women tend to get them more. They also run in families.

Lipomas often show up after an injury, though doctors don’t know whether that’s what makes them form.

Inherited conditions can bring them on. Some people who have a rare condition known as Madelung’s disease can get them. This most often affects men of Mediterranean ancestry who have alcohol use disorder.

If you notice a lump or swelling on your body, have a doctor check it out. They can let you know whether it’s a harmless lipoma or something that needs more tests.

Lipomas can form inside muscles or internal organs, but this doesn’t happen often. If one is causing pain or affecting your muscles, you might have to get it removed.

It’s rare, but a lump may be a type of cancer called a liposarcoma, which grows rapidly and can be painful. If your doctor suspects this condition, they’ll suggest more tests.

Lipomas can usually be diagnosed with a physical exam. But you may need a biopsy, in which a small piece of the tissue is removed and looked at under a microscope, to confirm the diagnosis. Tests like X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs can also give a clearer picture.

Since lipomas aren’t harmful, doctors often leave them alone. You may need to keep an eye on it between visits.

If one hurts or you don’t like the way it looks, you might want to have it removed. Your doctor can take it out surgically with a small cut. You’ll get a shot of medication to numb the area so it won’t hurt. You should be able to go home after it’s done. You may have to go back within a couple of weeks to get a few stitches taken out.

Other possible treatments include:

  • Steroids: This type of drug can help shrink a tumor.
  • Liposuction: The doctor uses a needle and syringe to draw out the fatty tissue.

Lipomas bigger than 2 inches are sometimes called giant lipomas. They can cause nerve pain, make you feel self-conscious about your looks, or change the way your clothes fit.

It’s a little harder to take out one of these. The doctor will probably give you medication that will help you sleep through the procedure. You’ll need someone to drive you home afterward.

Lipomas rarely come back once removed. Having one doesn’t make it more likely that you’ll get other diseases.