Lipomas: Symptoms, Causes and an FNA Diagnosis

A lipoma is one of those superficial lumps, like in the breast, that can cause a scare but actually turns out to be harmless. The trouble is, there’s no good way to tell exactly what’s under the skin – only that there’s a lump. A procedure called a fine needle aspiration is the quickest, easiest way to set your mind at ease. This is performed by a board certified cytopathologist or fine needle aspiration specialist.

Lipomas are basically just encapsulated fatty tissue. They usually feel rubbery and are mobile, just below the skin. They are benign tumors, which means that even though they are tumors, they are not cancer and don’t turn into cancer. However, if left alone, they may continue to grow. Lipomas are most likely to appear under the skin, such as the back, shoulders and arms, but they can occur anywhere in the body, including the breast. They do not increase the risk of breast cancer. Scientists don’t know what causes lipomas.

Although lipomas can occur at any age, they are most likely to occur in older adults between the ages of 40 and 60. When lipomas occur in a woman’s breasts, it is usually after menopause. They are slow growing and it may be quite a while before a woman notices the tumor. They are movable but typically painless and feel soft to the touch. Women often discover them during self-breast exams, but some are picked up during a mammogram. If a breast lump is a lipoma, most doctors recommend leaving it alone and having it rechecked with a mammogram in about six months.

However, if the lipoma is large or rapidly growing, especially in the thigh, the possibility of it being a cancer is higher. An FNA biopsy is a quick, efficient method to diagnose a lipoma. The fine needle aspiration specialist inserts a very thin needle into the lipoma and withdraws some of the tissue or fluid. The specimen is examined under a microscope and if the results show only normal fat cells, the diagnosis is clear – lipoma.

An FNA biopsy is advantageous to the patient because it is minimally invasive and there is no downtime. Results are usually available within a day or two. The procedure is also much less expensive compared to an open biopsy. If you have a lump that you are concerned with, you should see a fine needle aspiration specialist for examination and request an FNA biopsy.