When most people hear the words “soft tissue tumor,” they think of malignant cancers that can spread to other parts of the body. But not all soft tissue tumors are malignant; in fact, two of the more common types — lipomas and skin cysts — are benign and almost never associated with cancer.
With practices in White Plains, New York, and New York City’s Upper East Side, Michael H. Tarlowe, MD, PC, uses the most advanced techniques to diagnose and treat soft tissue tumors, including benign tumors like lipomas and skin cysts. If you have one of these types of tumors, here’s what you should know about your treatment options.
Soft tissue tumors 101
Soft tissue tumors are growths that form in or between your muscles, nerves, blood vessels, skin, connective tissues, fat, and other soft tissues. Although benign soft tissue tumors aren’t cancerous, they can still cause problems, especially if they grow and press on nerves, blood vessels, or organs.
Most soft tissue tumors can be diagnosed during a physical exam or with diagnostic imaging. In a few cases — for instance, if the tumor is painful or unusual in size or shape — Dr. Tarlowe may order a biopsy to obtain a small sample of the tumor material so cancer can be ruled out.
Researchers don’t know what causes benign soft tissue tumors. Some lipomas may be related to traumatic tissue damage or, more rarely, to excessive consumption of alcohol. In very few instances, they may be related to an underlying genetic condition.
Most benign soft tissue tumors are lipomas, which are growths composed of fat tissue. Lipomas often appear as soft bulges just under the skin’s surface. Usually, these bulges are completely painless.
Sometimes, a lipoma forms in deeper tissues or below the muscle tissue. These lipomas are more likely to cause pain, and they usually need to be evaluated more aggressively to rule out less common types of cancer.
Skin cysts form just below the skin’s surface, and they’re typically smaller and harder than lipomas. A cyst forms around a central pocket that’s filled with fluid, air, or some other substance.
One of the most common types of cysts, an epidermoid cyst, forms in a hair follicle, and is typically filled with fatty debris and a material called keratin. Cysts can appear just about anywhere, but most often occur on your neck, face, or torso.
Treating benign soft tissue tumors
Because these growths are benign, treatment usually begins with observation. Dr. Tarlowe monitors the lipoma or cyst to assess its growth, and he also asks you about any evolving symptoms you may have. If the growth is located in deeper tissues or if it exhibits any unusual characteristics, he may order tests, like imaging or a biopsy, to rule out cancer.
Typically, surgery is only recommended when a lipoma or cyst is causing pain or other symptoms. In most cases, surgery can be performed right in the office using a local anesthetic. If a cyst is filled with pus or other material, it will be drained first and then removed (excised), if needed.
Don’t ignore a skin growth
While most soft tissue growths are noncancerous, some can be malignant, and the only way to know if a growth is cancerous or not is to have it evaluated as soon as possible. If you have a cyst or lipoma, or if you think you may have one, Dr. Tarlowe can help. Call the office or use our online form to schedule a visit, so he can ensure you’re getting the best care for your needs.