A lipoma is a non cancerous (benign) lump that forms due to an overgrowth of fat cells. They most commonly develop in the fatty layer of the skin. You can get a lipoma anywhere in the body where you have fat cells.

Most people will not need treatment for a lipoma. But it is very important that you see your GP to check any lumps you have.

Lipomas are not cancer. Cancerous tumours of the fat cells are called liposarcomas. They are a type of soft tissue sarcoma.

Who gets lipomas?

Lipomas are fairly common. Around 1 in 100 people (around 1%) will develop a lipoma. They can develop at any age, but they are more common in people between the ages of 40 and 60 years. 

We don’t know what causes them, but some people develop them because of an inherited faulty gene. This condition is known as familial multiple lipomatosis and is not common.

People with familial multiple lipomatoses will develop more than one lipoma. The exact number they have can vary but it can be many.


Lipomas are usually just under the skin, feel soft to touch, and are usually shaped like a dome. Most are about 5cm or less. 

Most lipomas don’t usually cause any pain or other symptoms. But this depends on where in the body it is.

Rarely lipomas can develop in other parts of the body including the lungs, heart, adrenal glands Open a glossary item, and bowel.

If a lipoma is deeper inside your body you won’t be able to see or feel it, but it might press on other organs or nerves. For example, a lipoma in part of the bowel might cause a blockage and bleeding. If this happens you might also have tummy (abdominal) pain and feel sick.

Diagnosing a lipoma

To make a diagnosis your doctor will feel and look at your lump. In most cases, your doctor can recognise and diagnose a lipoma easily. Your doctor will also ask questions about the lump. For example, do you have any symptoms, and if it has changed in size.

Sometimes you might need an ultrasound scan Open a glossary item of the area. Your doctor might also recommend you have a CT scan Open a glossary item or MRI scan Open a glossary item if they need more information about the lump. 

If any lipoma increases in size or becomes painful, you must tell your doctor, as it can be a sign that the lipoma is changing.

Rarely, doctors can’t tell for certain whether the lump is a lipoma or not. Lipomas can be confused with malignant (cancerous) tumours, called liposarcomas.

Your doctor may feel it is best to remove it or take a biopsy so that they can be certain it is a lipoma. They will also make a referral to a specialist.

Types of biopsies you might have include a:

  • core biopsy Open a glossary item
  • incisional biopsy

Treatment for lipomas

Lipomas don’t usually need removing. But in some cases, your doctor, or you, might want your lipoma removed. This might be because:

  • your doctor wants to be certain it is a lipoma
  • your lipoma is large, or is growing larger
  • your lipoma is causing symptoms, such as pain
  • you want to have your lipoma removed for cosmetic reasons

You usually need a small operation under local anaesthetic Open a glossary item to remove a lipoma that’s under the skin. You might have a very slight scar once the wound has healed. The removed lipoma should then be sent to the laboratory to be looked at under the microscope.

It’s likely that you would need to pay privately to have your lipoma removed for cosmetic reasons.

After surgery to remove a lipoma

There is a small risk of problems or complications after having a lipoma removed, these include:

  • a wound infection
  • keloid scaring – this is when a scar looks big and may look red. It is normal to have a small thin scar after the wound has healed
  • a seroma Open a glossary item 
  • injury to a nerve- this depends on where the lipoma is  
  • haematoma Open a glossary item

Your nurse will explain what to look for and who to contact if you have any questions or concerns after your surgery.

  • Lipoma

    BMJ Best Practice, Accessed September 2023

  • Lipoma

    Primary Care Dermatology Society, Updated: November 2021 (accessed September 2023).

  • From pathogenesis to treatment, a systemic review of cardiac lipoma

    S Shu and others

    Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery, 2021. Volume 16, Issue 1.

  • Clinicopathological features and management of colonic lipomas 
    E Erginoz and others 
    Medicine, 2022. Volume 101, Issue 10

Last reviewed: 
02 Oct 2023
Next review due: 
02 Oct 2026

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