Spinal lipomas are congenital malformations. They do not express tumorous growth but are found to increase in volume like other normal subcutaneous fat tissue during the early postnatal period. To understand the natural course of volume changes in spinal lipomas, the authors measured the changes in size of spinal lipomas together with the normal subcutaneous fat in relation to BMI.
A total of 27 patients with conus spinal lipoma excluding lipomyelomeningocele who underwent MRI twice before surgery (on initial diagnosis and immediately preoperatively) were included. Patients’ ages at the time of the first MRI ranged from 0 to 32 months (mean 2.9 months, median 1 month). Candidates were categorized by age into three groups: < 1 month, 1–2 months, and ≥ 3 months. The growth rate of the spinal lipomas (in three directions), change in thickness of the normal subcutaneous fat, growth rate of the normal spinal canal (dorsoventral direction), and change in BMI were retrospectively analyzed between the three groups.
The mean interval between MRI studies was 83.1 days. During this time, the mean lipoma growth rates were 199%, 149%, and 133% in the dorsoventral, lateral, and craniocaudal directions, respectively (with 100% representing the first measurement). The mean change in the thickness of the normal subcutaneous fat was 183%. The mean growth of the normal spinal canal was 111%. The mean increase in BMI was 124%. These rates were all significantly higher in the younger groups. There was no significant difference in the growth rates between the lipoma and the subcutaneous fat in every age group. In contrast, the growth rate of the lipoma significantly exceeded that of the spinal canal in patients younger than 3 months. The subarachnoid space around the lipoma became obstructed in 35.3%, and spinal cord distortion occurred in 48.1% of the patients younger than 3 months.
Spinal lipomas rapidly increase in volume before the age of 3 months and especially in infants younger than 1 month. Their features closely correlate with the physiological growth of the normal subcutaneous fat and the increase in BMI. The rapid growth of lipomas suggests the importance of close observation in this period, keeping in mind the typical anatomical changes of lipomas and their surrounding structures.