Xanthoma is a skin condition in which certain fats build up under the surface of the skin.
Xanthomas are common, especially among older adults and people with high blood lipids.
Xanthomas vary in size. Some are very small. Others are bigger than 3 inches in diameter. They appear anywhere on the body. But, they are most often seen on the elbows, joints, tendons, knees, hands, feet, or buttocks.
Xanthomas may be a sign of a medical condition that involves an increase in blood lipids. Such conditions include:
- Certain cancers
- Inherited metabolic disorders such as familial hypercholesterolemia
- Primary biliary cirrhosis
Xanthelasma palpebra is a common type of xanthoma that appears on the eyelids. It may occur without any underlying medical condition and may not be linked with a high cholesterol or lipid level.
A xanthoma looks like a yellow to orange bump (papule) with defined borders. There may be several individual ones or they may form clusters.
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider will examine the skin. Usually, a diagnosis can be made by looking at your skin. A biopsy of the growth will show a fatty deposit.
You may have blood tests done to check lipid levels, liver function, and for diabetes.
If you have a disease that causes increased blood lipids, treating the condition may help reduce the development of xanthomas.
If the growth bothers you, your doctor may remove it by surgery or with a laser, but xanthomas may come back after surgery.
The growth is non-cancerous and painless, but may be a sign of another medical condition.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if xanthomas develop. They may indicate an underlying disorder that needs treatment.
Control of blood lipids, including triglycerides and cholesterol levels, may help reduce development of xanthomas.
Skin growths - fatty; Xanthelasma
Habif TP. Cutaneous manifestations of internal disease. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2016:chap 26.
White LE, Horenstein MG, Shea CR. Xanthomas. In: Lebwohl MG, Heymann WR, Berth-Jones J, Coulson I, eds. Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 248.
Review Date 4/14/2015
Updated by: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.