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Sebaceous Gland: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment


Sebaceous Gland: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

The skin protects the body from heat, light, microorganisms, injury, etc. It is an organ that protects against external factors. Serving as a vital barrier for organs, the skin helps maintain body temperature, receive various signals from the environment and provide immune system defense. Skin thickness and texture may not be the same in everyone. However, in all humans, the skin consists of three layers. The outermost layer of the skin is the epidermis and contains melanocytes, which give the skin its color. The dermis, located under the epidermis, contains oil glands, hair follicles, nerve endings and sweat glands. The hypodermis, the bottom layer, is a fatty tissue and is the layer where body fat is stored. Each layer may have different functions. Sebaceous glands located in the dermis are small glands that cover hair follicles and help reduce brittleness. The lumps formed as a result of excessive growth of the cells in this fatty tissue are called sebaceous glands. Fat glands, which can form in any area where fat cells are found, are benign and generally harmless. The sebaceous glands known as “lipomas” are painless, mobile and in the form of oily lumps. It can usually be seen in adults aged 40-60. Cancerous lipoma formation is rare and is called “liposarcoma” (1, 2).

What is Oil Gland?

Fat glands or lipomas are soft and painless benign fatty tumors that can occur in any part of the body. Although their sizes vary, they can be 1-10 cm in size. It can occur in the subcutaneous fat tissues spread throughout the body, but the most common areas are the back, neck, trunk, shoulders and arms. The oil glands move easily when touched and are usually painless. Lipomas grow slowly and usually do not cause cancer. Lipomas, which are benign tumors, generally occur in the middle age group.

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The exact cause of lipomas is not yet known. It can be shown that the commonly accepted view is related to trauma and cytokine release. More than one lipoma may occur in some people, and this may be a sign of some syndromes. Since the fatty tissue under the skin is found everywhere in the body, sebaceous glands can form in any area. However, the most common areas may be the neck, shoulders, back, chest and arms. In some cases, lipomas can grow into the body and go unnoticed. Mostly, 1-2 sebaceous gland formation can be observed, but more than one lipoma formation may occur due to hereditary disorders such as multiple lipomatosis in the family (3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

What causes sebaceous glands?

The exact reason behind lipoma formation is not known. It has been shown that factors such as trauma and genetic diseases may be effective in lipoma formation. However, the incidence of lipomas may increase in cases of obesity, diabetes and hyperlipidemia. Some conditions that may cause lipoma formation include:

  • Hereditary lipomatosis: Lipomatosis, which runs in families, is hereditary and can especially trigger the formation of multiple lipomas.
  • Dercum’s disease: It is also known as Anders syndrome and is a rare disease. It is a health problem that can cause painful lipomas to form on the arms, legs and trunk.
  • Madelung’s disease: Madelung, a benign symmetric lipomatosis disease, is a health problem in which multiple lipomas occur around the neck and shoulders.
  • Gardner syndrome: Gardner syndrome, which is rare, can trigger the formation of lipomas and some diseases.
  • Cowden syndrome and Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome: They are diseases caused by genetic mutations and can increase the risk of developing lipomas.

Lipoma formation is hereditary, and having members in the family with lipomas may increase the likelihood of developing lipomas in other individuals (3, 6).

What are the symptoms of sebaceous glands?

Fat glands can occur all over the body and may not be noticed in some cases. However, typical symptoms of sebaceous glands may include:

  • Located in the form of a capsule just under the skin,
  • Generally oval or round in shape on the neck, shoulders, back, chest, arms and thighs,
  • Mostly smaller than 5 cm but can grow up to 10 cm,
  • non-spreading, movable to the touch, soft,
  • growing slowly,
  • Painless masses may indicate oil glands.
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Lipomas, which are mostly painless, can be somewhat painful when they put pressure on the nerve or occur near the joint. Additionally, sebaceous glands may restrict some movements (5, 6, 7).

How to Diagnose Sebaceous Gland?

Fat glands are masses that can be diagnosed by physical examination. Since sebaceous glands can be confused with cysts, imaging tests may be performed. Lumps can be visualized and checked for cysts with ultrasound, MRI and computed tomography (CT). Cysts are located closer to the skin surface and may be harder than lipomas. However, the location of the lipoma, its proximity to blood vessels and nerves, and whether it is pressing can be evaluated. Abnormally located lipomas can be visualized with ultrasound, MRI and computed tomography.

It can be checked whether the sebaceous gland is painful or not, and a biopsy can be performed when there is a suspicion that the lipoma is turning into cancer. Tissue samples can be taken from the sebaceous glands and sent to the laboratory. Liposarcomas are cancerous tissues that look similar to lipomas. Unlike lipomas, they can grow rapidly, be painful, and occur steadily (3, 5, 6).

What are the Types of Oil Glands?

Sebaceous glands may consist mainly of fatty tissue, but can be divided into subclasses depending on how they look. This may be because some lipomas contain different tissues and blood vessels. Oil gland types can be given as follows:

  • Conventional: These are the commonly seen white oil glands.
  • Hypernoma: Fat glands originating from brown adipose tissue that play a role in regulating body temperature.
  • Fibrolipoma: Fat glands where fat cells and fibrous tissues coexist.
  • Angiolipoma: These are fatty glands containing fatty tissue and blood vessels.
  • Myelolipoma: Fat glands where tissues producing blood cells and fat tissue coexist.
  • Spindle cell lipoma: These are long rod-shaped fat glands.
  • Pleomorphic lipoma: These are fatty glands containing lumps of different sizes and shapes.
  • Atypical lipoma: Fat glands consisting of numerous and deep fatty tissues (6, 8).
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Is the Fat Gland a Cancerous Cell?

Lipomas are typically not cancerous cells. They are slow-growing, painless and benign tumors. They are masses that can be inherited. Fat glands, which are usually not dangerous, can rarely turn into cancer. However, this condition is not common and may present with additional symptoms.

Does Fat Gland Turn into Cancer?

Sebaceous glands can generally be benign. Once formed, sebaceous glands may generally have a low potential to change. Therefore, the probability of turning into cancer can be considered low. If the sebaceous glands grow rapidly, are painful, and continue to grow, cancer may be suspected. Rarely, sebaceous glands can turn into a type of cancer called liposarcoma. This condition can be diagnosed with additional tests and appropriate treatment can be provided (6, 8).

Oil Gland Treatment

Lipomas are lumps that generally do not require treatment. However, it may cause aesthetic concerns and negatively affect social life. For this reason, removal of the oil glands may be requested. Fat glands can be removed by Liposuction method or surgically. Surgical removal is safe and is an outpatient procedure. Some people may prefer Liposuction instead of surgery. It can be applied by removing fat lumps using a long and thin needle. When no procedure is needed to remove the sebaceous glands, regular medical check-ups may be required. Changes in tumors can be monitored with regular examinations (6, 8, 9).

Fat Gland Surgical Treatment

Complete removal of lipomas can be achieved by excision (surgical removal). Before starting the procedure, the area where the tumor is located is anesthetized with local anesthesia. For very large lipomas, general anesthesia may be preferred. After anesthesia is applied, an incision is made around the tumor and the lump is removed. Generally, superficial and small lipomas can be discharged on the same day after removal. Stitches may be removed within a few weeks and scarring may occur. As the size of the lipoma increases and depending on its location, the time it takes to return to daily life may vary. It is rare for lipomas to reoccur after removal. Excision treatment can be repeated in the presence of recurrent lipoma. Bleeding, infection, redness, pain and swelling may occur after the surgical procedure (8).


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