Many types of skin growths may affect you at any stage of life. Most growths are benign, meaning they do not pose a threat to your health, but can be removed or otherwise treated if you choose.
What is a Benign Skin Growth?
A benign skin growth is any type of growth on the skin which is noncancerous. Most skin growths are more common as you age and may be caused by excess sun exposure over time. Others are believed to have genetic factors and are common at any stage of life.
Types of Benign Skin Growths
- Dermatofibromas are caused by an accumulation of fibroblasts, which are soft tissue cells found just below the skin. They typically appear as small and firm red or brown bumps and are most common on the legs. Dermatofibromas are more common in women and can occasionally cause itching.
- Dermoid cysts are benign skin tumors containing hairs, sweat glands and sebaceous glands. They can also occur internally and contain other structures including cartilage or bone fragments.
- Freckles are small dark and flat spots that most commonly appear on sun-exposed areas. They are more common among those with fair skin and blond or red hair.
- Keloids are a type of scarring. They are typically raised, smooth and firm. Keloids are most common among those with dark skin tones.
- Keratoacanthomas are round growths with a depression in the center containing a pasty substance. They are most common on the face, arms or hands and are the same color as the surrounding skin. Keratoacanthomas are similar in appearance to squamous cell carcinoma, so it is important to have them examined.
- Lipomas are soft, easily moved lumps below the skin caused by fatty deposits. They are typically round or oval in shape and more common among women. Lipomas are usually found in the arms, torso or neck.
- Moles, or nevi, are small marks caused by clusters or overgrowths of pigment-producing skin cells known as melanocytes. They may be flat or raised and are typically brown or black. While some moles are large or irregular in shape, these should always be examined to rule out skin cancer.
- Pyogenic granulomas are raised marks caused by excessive capillaries near the skin’s surface. They may be red, brown or dark blue in color. Pyogenic granulomas are prone to swelling and may bleed. They are typically the result of an injury to the skin.
- Seborrheic keratoses are wart-like growths that are typically brown, black or the same color as the surrounding skin. They are usually oval or round in shape and more common among older patients.
- Skin tags are small, soft growths that grow from a short stem. They are typically the same color as the surrounding skin and are more common in areas of high movement or friction including the armpits, breast creases, groin or neck.
Distinguishing Benign Skin Growths and Skin Cancer
Some benign skin growths can be similar in appearance or symptoms to various types of skin cancer.
Moles can be at a higher risk for becoming cancerous. In particular, an atypical mole poses a risk of becoming melanoma, which is the most serious form of skin cancer. For this reason, it is important to monitor your moles and have them checked by a professional. Look for signs including asymmetry, irregular or changing borders, varying or changing color, diameter larger than a pencil eraser (about 5 mm) or any evolutions in its general appearance. The pneumonic device “ABCDE” can help you remember the changes to look for—asymmetry, border, color, diameter and evolution.
Keratoacanthomas should also be examined to rule out skin cancer. These growths are similar in appearance to squamous cell carcinoma, which is less serious than melanoma but much easier to treat when diagnosed early. Squamous cell carcinoma typically appears as a rough or scaly patch or open sore. The growths are often red or pink with a central depression, similar to keratoacanthomas. A professional can help determine the difference between a benign growth and squamous cell carcinoma.
Benign Skin Growth Diagnosis and Treatment
In most cases, benign skin growths can be diagnosed through a simple visual exam. Your provider will also ask questions about your health history, the growth’s development and any symptoms you experience. In some cases, a biopsy may be necessary to rule out skin cancer or other conditions. This involves removing a small tissue sample which can then be tested in a laboratory to make an accurate diagnosis.
While benign skin growths are not harmful to your health, many can cause irritation or be unwanted for cosmetic reasons. Several common removal methods are available for benign growths. Depending on the type of growth, your provider may recommend a treatment such as:
- Simple surgery
- Topical treatments
- Laser resurfacing