Moles and Growths
Appearing on, or just below, the surface of the skin at any time from birth through adulthood, most growths on the skin can be classified as either moles, cysts or age spots. These growths are generally harmless, although in some cases they can develop and lead to more serious conditions, including skin cancer.
Small pieces of skin that protrude from the surface are known as skin tags. They are sometimes mistaken for growths that look like warts but they are not infectious or contagious. Birthmarks appear, as the name suggests, at birth or soon afterwards. They are most usually harmless but can be cosmetically undesirable or lead to an underlying problem if they grow rapidly.
When people encounter moles, cysts, skin tags and birthmarks they may be worried about cancer growth or something more severe than a primary skin lesion. The fact is that these conditions rarely progress beyond being benign skin lesions. However, if you notice any changes occurring in or around your skin blemish it would be wise to consult a skin expert.
It is important to pay close attention to any moles and growths you notice and consult the skin experts at Trillium Creek Dermatology & Surgery Center to determine if treatment is required.
Beneath the top layer of your skin are specialized cells called melanocytes. These produce a pigment called melanin in response to exposure from ultraviolet light and are the reason that your skin tans in the sun. Melanin is important because it serves to protect your skin from sun damage. People with naturally dark skin produce more melanin than people with fair skin.
It is not unusual for melanocytes to grow and develop in small groups or clusters. When they do, they appear as a darkened spot or mole, also known as a nevus. Moles are very common and almost always non-cancerous. They can be flat (known as a junctional nevus) or raised (compound nevus) and are usually smaller than a pencil eraser with clearly-defined edges. Colors range from pink to brown or black and the overall shape is round or oval.
Moles are clearly most noticeable on the face or scalp but can be present anywhere on your skin. Moles that are uniform in color are usually nothing to worry about. They may be present on your baby’s skin at birth and new moles will probably appear throughout their childhood. Again, these are unlikely to be problematic. Existing moles on women may darken during pregnancy as a response to hormonal changes. This is perfectly normal and harmless.
Aside from pregnancy, a change in the color of your mole is something to be checked. If your mole changes in color or shape, or shows signs of damage such as crusting, weeping or even bleeding, then you should ask a skin specialist to take a look at it. Moles that are itchy, moles that don’t look like the others on your skin, or new moles that suddenly appear in adulthood should all be investigated.
Moles that change in this manner can be cancerous and may be a melanoma. Not all melanomas will arise from moles, but many do begin at or near the site of a mole or other dark spot on the skin.
One in fifty people will be diagnosed with melanoma at some point in their life. The actual level of risk varies based on ethnicity: fair-skinned people are 25 times more likely to develop melanoma than dark-complected people.
The cancer survival rate is excellent when melanoma is detected and treated early. If not caught at an early stage, melanoma can spread aggressively to other parts of the body.
Treatment of Moles
Because most moles are completely harmless they do not require treatment, but some moles get irritated an so are removed. Moles that are surgically removed will generally not reappear. Your Trillium Creek Dermatology skin experts can get rid of moles quickly with minimal pain and no downtime.
We recommend a yearly full body exam by a Trillium Creek Dermatology and Surgery Center skin expert who is trained to detect areas of concern on your skin. In addition, if you find a suspicious area on your skin where a mole has changed, contact us right away – we do have same-day appointments.
If a cancerous melanoma is suspected, a biopsy is performed for an accurate diagnosis. Skin cancers are referred to our Mohs Skin Cancer Center at Trillium Creek Dermatology and Surgery Center for removal.
Sac-like growths that appear as domed bumps or nodules are generally known as cysts. They can be found throughout the body in joints and some internal organs. Cysts on the skin are referred to as epidermoid cysts. They can be present in babies and children but tend to appear over time in adulthood.
An epidermoid cyst develops as the result of disruption to the skin around the hair follicle where the skin cells form a discrete sac, coupled with build-up of a light brown protein known as keratin within the sac. Keratin is a natural protein that is the main structural constituent of hair. Cysts can also contain fluid or hair.
Although we still have much to learn about them, a number of factors are known to promote the formation of cysts. The most common is an association with acne vulgaris. Acne also affects the follicles of the skin and causes local skin damage. This promotes the formation of a closed sac in which a cyst can build.
Smoking is also believed by some to be a causative link, although the exact mechanism for this is unclear. Some people who develop cysts in middle age may in fact be suffering from pilar cysts (a specific type of cyst on the scalp). These have a genetic link where a dominant gene is passed down through the generations. Pilar cysts affect women more than men.
Cysts occur mostly on the face, eyelids, neck, ears and body. Although they pose no immediate threat and may even reduce over time, some people choose to have them removed for cosmetic reasons. Occasionally a cyst can become infected and cause sensitivity and pain as it places pressure on the surrounding skin and nerve endings.
Treatment of Cysts
Small cysts below the skin are, in general, completely harmless and do not require treatment. If a cyst becomes infected, your Trillium Creek Dermatology and Surgery Center skin expert may prescribe oral antibiotics to fight the infection, and may drain the contents of the cyst to relieve pressure and discomfort. However, the cyst may recur because the sac wall has not been removed.
Cysts can be surgically removed, and by removing the sac or cyst wall, they generally do not reappear.
Skin tags are very common and generally occur after midlife. As skin tags are usually harmless, people tend to have them removed for aesthetic or cosmetic reasons. Sometimes skin tags will be removed because of irritation where they catch on clothing or jewelry. Skin tags may also be removed because they interfere with routine skin care routines like shaving.
The characteristic skin tag is a small protruding bag of skin which is generally no more than 1/6th of an inch across, although larger skin tags are possible. The skin tag is attached to the surrounding skin by a narrow neck or stalk known as a peduncle.
Skin tags are usually found on the neck, chest, back, armpits, under the breasts, or in the groin area. They are sometimes known as “cutaneous soft fibromas”.
It is not entirely certain what causes skin tags, but it is believed that areas where the skin is rubbed are more prone to skin tags. Certain individuals are also associated with an increased likelihood of skin tags. These include:
- People who are overweight or obese – where skin tags are most likely to form between skin folds and creases,
- Pregnant women – most likely due to the natural hormonal changes of pregnancy,
- Individuals with diabetes – the exact mechanism is not known, but is thought to be due to the body’s resistance to insulin,
- Illegal steroid use – steroids interfere with the body and muscles, causing the collagen fibers in the skin to bond, allowing skin tags to be formed,
- People with the human papilloma virus (low-risk HPV 6 and 11) – the relationship between virus and skin tags is not fully known.
Treatment of Skin Tags
Skin tag removal is a quick and straightforward procedure. There are a number of published ‘home remedies’ for ridding yourself of skin tags, but many of these are ineffective or can lead to complications such as infection. Others are dangerous and extreme and can even make your skin look worse!
For peace of mind, we always recommend seeking professional help to make sure that your skin tags are professionally removed using sterile instruments in a safe environment.
Our skin experts at Trillium Creek Dermatology and Surgery Center can advise you about your skin tags and remove them for you.
Birthmarks aren’t always present at birth. Some, such as hemangiomas, will develop several weeks later. Most are permanent, but a few types fade as a child grows and the birthmark becomes less noticeable.
There are two main processes that are responsible for birthmarks. The first occurs where blood vessels under the skin are found to be slightly malformed. These birthmarks are often red, purple or pink in colour. Birthmarks that carry more of a brown tint are due to clusters of pigment cells within the deeper layers of the skin. The process here is similar to that responsible for the formation of moles.
Birthmarks are common and usually harmless. Treatment is often carried out purely for cosmetic reasons. However, in some cases intervention is recommended if a birthmark is seen to be growing rapidly or changing in nature, or where there are indications of underlying disease.
Treatment of Birthmarks
Birthmarks usually require no intervention as they are harmless. The removal of some birthmarks requires simple surgery, but laser therapy is most effective in reducing the pigmentation of most birthmarks and provides good cosmetic results.
Your skin experts at Trillium Creek Dermatology and Surgery Center can advise you of the treatment options available for your birthmark and can treat you promptly with minimal disruption.