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A seborrheic keratosis is a growth on the skin. The growth is not cancer (benign). It’s a brown or black raised area. Seborrheic keratoses often appear on a person’s chest, arms, back, or other areas. They’re very common in people older than age 50, but younger adults can get them as well. With age, more and more people get 1 or more of these growths.
The outer layer of your skin is the epidermis. Cells called keratinocytes make up much of this layer. These cells regularly flake off as younger cells replace them. Sometimes keratinocytes grow in greater numbers than usual. This can lead to a keratosis. You may have just one. Or you may have a dozen or a hundred or more of these growths. In most cases, these growths only cause cosmetic problems. In some cases they can cause skin irritation if they’re in a spot that clothes rub.
Seborrheic keratoses are not cancer. But they can sometimes look like growths that are cancer. Because of this, your healthcare provider may need to take a sample and examine it.
It’s not clear what exactly causes them. Seborrheic keratoses tend to run in families, so genes may be a cause. Normal skin aging plays a role because the growths are more common with age. They also sometimes appear after the healing phase of an inflammatory skin disease such as eczema. They are not contagious. You can’t get them from somebody else or spread them to others.
Sometimes, multiple seborrheic keratoses may suddenly appear. This is unusual. It may be a sign of a cancer not linked to the skin, such as colon cancer or lung cancer. If you’ve had many of these growths suddenly appear, tell your healthcare provider. He or she may want to make sure that you don’t have any type of cancer.
The growths can:
They occur most often on the chest, belly, back, neck, arms, face, or other areas that are exposed to sun. You might have only 1 or up to hundreds of these growths. People tend to develop more of these growths as they age.
A healthcare provider can often diagnose seborrheic keratoses based on how they look. In some cases, a biopsy may be needed.
If you have a skin growth that concerns you, it is always a good idea to see your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will ask you about your medical history and symptoms. Your healthcare provider will also give you a physical exam and closely examine the growth.
It’s important for your healthcare provider to make sure any growths are not cancer or pre-cancer. Some signs that may concern your healthcare provider may need to check the growth for cancer if:
If your healthcare provider wants to check for cancer, you will have a skin biopsy. Your healthcare provider will take a sample of the growth or the entire growth. It will then be checked under a microscope for cancer.
Seborrheic keratoses usually only cause cosmetic issues. But many people worry about the possibility of cancer. People may also want them removed because they don’t like how they look.
In most cases, they don’t need any treatment. But you can choose to remove 1 or more of them if they get irritated due to clothing, feel itchy, are worried about cancer, or don’t like how they look. They can be removed with:
Most growths that are removed don’t grow back. If they do grow back after treatment, a tissue sample (biopsy) is needed to make sure that the diagnosis was correct and that the growth is not cancer.
Don’t try to remove a seborrheic keratosis yourself. This may cause an infection.
See your healthcare provider soon if you have:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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