Xanthoma is a condition in which fatty growths develop
underneath the skin. These growths can appear anywhere on the body, but they typically
form on the:
- joints, especially the knees and elbows
Xanthomas can vary in size. The growths may be as small as a
pinhead or as large as a grape. They often look like a flat bump under the skin
and sometimes appear yellow or orange. They usually don’t cause any pain. However,
they might be tender and itchy. There may be clusters of growths in the same
area or several individual growths on different parts of the body.
Xanthoma is usually caused by high levels of blood lipids,
or fats. This may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as:
- hyperlipidemia, or high blood cholesterol levels
- diabetes, a group of
diseases that causes high blood sugar levels
- hypothyroidism, a
condition in which the thyroid doesn’t produce hormones
- primary biliary cirrhosis, a disease in which
the bile ducts in the liver are slowly destroyed
- cholestasis, a condition in which the flow of
bile from the liver slows or stops
- nephrotic syndrome, a disorder that damages the
blood vessels in the kidneys
- hematologic disease, such as monoclonal
gammopathy metabolic lipid disorders. These are genetic conditions that affect
the body’s ability to break down substances and to maintain important bodily
functions, such as digestion of fats.
- cancer, a serious condition in which malignant
cells grow at a rapid, uncontrolled rate
- side effect of certain medications, such as tamoxifen,
prednisone, and cyclosporine
Xanthoma itself isn’t dangerous, but the underlying
condition that’s causing it needs to be addressed. There is also a type of
xanthoma that affects the eyelids called xanthelasma.
Who Is at Risk for Xanthoma?
You’re at an increased risk for xanthoma if you have any of the
medical conditions described above. You’re also more likely to develop xanthoma
if you have high cholesterol or triglyceride levels. Talk to your doctor about
your risk and what you can do to minimize the chances of developing the
How Is Xanthoma Diagnosed?
Your doctor or dermatologist can typically diagnose
xanthoma. They may be able to make a diagnosis simply by examining your skin. A
skin biopsy can confirm the presence of a fatty deposit beneath the skin.
During this procedure, your doctor will remove a small sample of tissue from
the growth and send it to a laboratory for analysis. Your doctor will follow up
with you to discuss the results. They may also order blood tests to check blood
lipid levels, assess liver function, and rule out diabetes.
How Is Xanthoma Treated?
If xanthoma is a symptom of a medical condition, then the
underlying cause must be treated. This will get rid of the growths and minimize
the likelihood that they will return. Diabetes and cholesterol levels that are
well controlled are less likely to cause xanthoma.
Other treatments for xanthoma include surgical removal,
laser surgery, or chemical treatment with trichloroacetic acid. Xanthoma
growths can return after treatment, however, so these methods don’t necessarily
cure the condition. Talk to your doctor to see which treatment is right for you.
They can help determine whether the condition can be treated through medical
management of the underlying issue.
Can Xanthoma Be Prevented?
Xanthoma may not be completely preventable. But there are
steps you can take to lower your risk of developing the condition. If you have
a hyperlipidemia or diabetes, follow your doctor’s instructions on how to treat
and manage it. You should also attend all regular follow-up appointments with
your doctor. Tell your doctor about all the medications you’re taking.
It’s also important to maintain appropriate blood lipid and
cholesterol levels. You can do this by eating healthy foods, exercising
regularly, and taking any necessary medications. Getting regular blood tests can
also help you keep your lipid and cholesterol levels in check.