Fatty Cysts

A Quick Guide to Fatty Cysts

Fatty cysts are lumps which are made when fat cells cluster together. They are called lipomas. Lipomas are not usually cancerous and can appear anywhere on the body. Sometimes they can look unsightly if you have several large fatty cysts which show through the skin. Unless it is for looks or because it hinders movement, these lipomas are not usually surgically removed.


Fatty cysts can vary in dimensions from the size of a pea to around two inches. Most are small and you can have numerous cysts develop over the course of your life, sometimes as many as two dozen or more. The majority of people only have one or two. Most often lipomas will appear on the back, shoulders and chest. They are not surgically removed unless they cause some kind of blockage or look terribly unattractive. Removing a fatty cyst is easy though, as the area is usually made numb with a local anaesthetic, an incision made, and the lump pulled out.

Fatty cysts are often cancerous nor do they become cancerous. The condition itself is thought to be of genetic origins. Normally the lumps do not cause any pain but there are some conditions under which they can become painful. This is a condition known as adiposis dolorosa or Dercum’s disease and no one knows why the fatty cysts become painful. Treatment for this type of pain is accomplished with lidocaine given intravenously  or mexiletine, which is taken orally.


If you are one of the people who has many fatty cysts, you could develop Madelung’s Disease. This is when the cysts grow in places where they can upset bodily functions. These places include the heart, lungs, larynx, intestines or esophagus. In these cases, the lumps will most likely be surgically removed.

Fatty cysts are usually dome-shaped and they grow very slowly, many times over a number of months or years. The lump will feel rubbery or soft and it moves around when you touch it. A cancerous lump grows very fast compared to a fatty cyst and it is not soft, but hard to the touch and is not at all moveable. The majority of lipomas are not painful but cancerous lumps can be painful.

There is a cancer caused by body fat but the lumps do not appear visibly under the skin like fatty cysts. They are deeper down and most often in the abdomen, groin or thigh. They cannot be felt through the skin but can become painful and cause obstructions. You can have a malignant lump for many years and not know until it is large enough to cause an organ not to function or block a passageway. Unfortunately by this time, there is less success in removing the lump in its entirety and eliminating the cancerous cells because it has gotten overly large and many times moved into other locations, such as the lymph nodes.

Usually it is easy to tell if you have fatty cysts by the location and feel of the lump. But, it is best not to take it for granted, but to make an appointment with your doctor to have it examined. Your doctor can most often tell just with a physical examination. If there is any question at all as to whether it is malignant, a biopsy will be taken to make a diagnosis.

Don’t worry unnecessarily if you should feel a lump through the skin. It is not immediately cancerous as many people automatically assume. It can be a fatty cyst and you can have many of these over a lifetime. Fatty cysts are not pleasant but they are not life threatening either.