Harmless little fat cell "lumps" under your skin may not be something you'd worry about. Especially if you have just one or two. But is it possible to overlook a tumor as a benign lipoma? Should you have it checked out? And what are the best ways to deal with lipoma that's troubling you?
Ever had one of those wobbly bumps appear below your skin and been told they’re just “fatty cells”? Lipomas are usually nothing to worry about. But with cancer scares jolting us out of our reverie, do these benign lumps warrant some attention too?
What Are Lipomas?
Soft and non-cancerous, lipoma lumps are formed when too many fat cells aggregate in one area of the body beneath the skin. This could happen anywhere in the body, but lipomas are typically spotted in the neck and shoulder region, the chest or back, the arms, or buttock and thigh area.1
Most people get lipomas as adults, though you could get one at any age. Middle-aged men and women seem to find more visible lipomas than others. Men have a tendency to get multiple lipomas at one time, while women usually get just one.2
Should You Be Worried?
Lipomas while fairly common (with as many as one in a hundred people developing them) are usually harmless – unless they are causing you serious cosmetic issues or if they are located at a place that presses on a nerve or obstructs the bowels. In such cases, they can be surgically removed if needed.3
The main concern – and one that has people really worried – is whether their lipoma is or can become a tumor. Lipomas are generally noncancerous. Research also seems to indicate that lipomas won’t turn into liposarcomas. On the other hand, if you mistake a liposarcoma or fatty cancer for a benign lipoma, you run the risk of leaving a potentially dangerous condition untreated. So how do you tell the difference?
Lipomas are usually pea-sized or a couple of centimeters wide and are usually found just below the skin’s surface. They feel doughy, and some even move a bit when touched. Lipomas are also asymptomatic, with no other associated problems besides the discomfort or aesthetic issues of having a bump under your skin. They usually grow quite slowly.
Liposarcomas, on the other hand, are deep-seated and measure 5 cm or more. They are also usually firm or hard to the touch and can be painful. They seem to be more “fixed” and don’t move as much. They are typically found in the groin, thigh, or back of the abdomen.4
Dealing With Lipomas
For smaller lipomas that do not present a problem, your option is to just live with it. If the lipoma feels hard, is painful, is growing bigger, or has reappeared post removal, you may need to get professional medical help. If you suspect a tumor, rather than worrying yourself sick , approach a specialist who may use imaging tests to assess the lipoma.
The most common line of treatment for lipomas is surgery. An MRI may be done to image the tissue planes so the lipoma can be safely removed. Larger lipomas (of 5 cm and over) are usually dealt with surgically. This is because it is hard to tell a lipoma from a liposarcoma, and larger lumps which may be ignored assuming they are non-cancerous may well be malignant. As one study found, even professionals with expertise in orthopedic oncology and musculoskeletal radiology can only differentiate between a well-differentiated liposarcoma and a lipoma in just 69 percent of all cases.5 Your doctor might, therefore, suggest removing it in this case just to be safe.
Other options include injection lipolysis, Ayurveda, or naturopathy, though results may vary depending on the expertise of your practitioner.6
One alternative to surgery is dissolving lipomas. This injection lipolysis essentially tries to lipodissolve the subcutaneous fat by the action of PDC/DC (phosphatidyl choline or sodium deoxycholate) compounds injected into the affected area. This approach is not unlike what cosmetic surgeons use to contour the body by nonsurgical methods. However, it is important to note that is not an Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved treatment for lipomas. So you need to weigh you options (and the complications) carefully before this treatment. Complications include muscle injury or nerve damage if done by someone who isn’t completely aware of the underlying anatomy; skin ulceration or blisters if attempted as a self-injection; or atypical mycobacterial infection that can cause illness. However, if the doctor is well-trained and experienced, you may find injection lipolysis can be a cost-effective method to treat the lipoma. Researchers suggest further studies are required for wider acceptance.7
Alternative Solutions To Treat Lipomas
Curcumin in turmeric is anti-inflammatory besides being an antioxidant. Some herbal remedies use a paste made from turmeric to apply as a topical treatment. In addition, turmeric helps by healing you from within. According to holistic medicine, one cause for lipomas is a possible imbalance in the liver. Turmeric helps cleanse the liver and stimulates the production of bile acid, acting like a natural detox for your liver and blood. The advantage with turmeric as therapy is that it may also help combat free radical damage that has been implicated in some cancers of the body.8
Ayurveda sees lipomas as a symptom of kapha imbalance in your body and suggest the use of Vamana or induced vomiting as part of the popular Panchakarma therapy. This must be done carefully under the supervision of a trained practitioner, and can help restore balance where there is excess kapha.9 Kanchanara guggulu is a typically prescribed Ayurvedic remedy for kapha accumulations like lipoma and reduces the size of the lump of fatty tissue.10 Triphala is another popular remedy that can help in the purging of unwanted fat from the body.11
References [ + ]
|2.||↑||Lipoma Excision, American Academy of Family Physicians.|
|3.||↑||Why do I need my lipoma removed? Cancer Research UK.|
|4.||↑||What is liposarcoma? The Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative.|
|5.||↑||O’Donnell, Patrick W., Anthony M. Griffin, William C. Eward, Amir Sternheim, Lawrence M. White, Jay S. Wunder, and Peter C. Ferguson. “Can experienced observers differentiate between lipoma and well-differentiated liposarcoma using only MRI?.” Sarcoma 2013 (2013).|
|6.||↑||Allen, Brian, Christine Rader, and Alan Babigian. “Giant lipomas of the upper extremity.” The Canadian Journal of Plastic Surgery 15, no. 3 (2007): 141.|
|7.||↑||Nanda, Soni. “Treatment of lipoma by injection lipolysis.” Journal of cutaneous and aesthetic surgery 4, no. 2 (2011): 135.|
|8.||↑||Binic, Ivana, Viktor Lazarevic, Milanka Ljubenovic, Jelena Mojsa, and Dusan Sokolovic. “Skin ageing: natural weapons and strategies.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013 (2013).|
|9.||↑||Gupta, Bharti, Sushil C. Mahapatra, Renu Makhija, Adarsh Kumar, Nikhil M. Jirankalgikar, Madan M. Padhi, and Ramesh Babu Devalla. “Physiological and biochemical changes with Vamana procedure.” AYU (An international quarterly journal of research in Ayurveda) 33, no. 3 (2012): 348.|
|10.||↑||Rani, Rachana, and Sudeep Mishra. “Phytochemistry of Guggul (Commiphora wightii): A Review.” Asian Journal of Research In Chemistry 6, no. 4 (2013): 415-426.|
|11.||↑||Sharma, Sushil. “Triphala Powder: A Wonder of Ayurveda.” (2014).|