Seborrheic Keratosis

Written by Krista O'Connell | Published on June 29, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Seborrheic Keratosis

What Is Seborrheic Keratosis?

Seborrheic keratosis is a type of skin growth. Although they can be unsightly and may cause embarrassment, the growths are not harmful. However, in some cases seborrheic keratosis can be difficult to distinguish from melanoma, a very serious type of skin cancer. If your skin changes unexpectedly, you should always have it looked at by a doctor.

What Does Seborrheic Keratosis Look Like?

Seborrheic keratosis is usually easily identified by appearance.

Location

There is usually more than one growth. Growths can be found on many areas of the body, including the:

  • chest
  • shoulders
  • back
  • stomach

Growths are not found on the soles of the feet or the palms.

Texture

Growths often start out as small, rough areas. Over time, they tend to develop a thick, wart-like surface.

They may also have a waxy appearance and slightly raised surfaces.

Shape

Growths are usually round or oval shaped.

Color

Growths are usually brown. However they can also be yellow, white, or black.

Who Is at Risk of Developing Seborrheic Keratosis?

Risk factors for this condition include:

Older Age

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the condition often develops in individuals over the age of 40 (NLM, 2010). Risk increases with age.

Family Members with Seborrheic Keratosis

The skin condition often runs in families. Risk increases with the number of affected relatives.

Frequent Sun Exposure

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there is some evidence that skin exposed to the sun is more likely to develop seborrheic keratosis. However, more research must be done. Growths also appear on skin that is usually covered up when people go outdoors (AAD).

When to See a Doctor

Seborrheic keratosis is not dangerous. However, you should not ignore growths on your skin. It can be difficult for the average person to distinguish between harmless and dangerous growths. Something that looks like this condition could actually be melanoma.

Arrange for a doctor to check your skin if:

  • there is a new growth
  • there is a change in appearance of an existing growth
  • there is only one growth (seborrheic keratosis usually causes several)
  • a growth has an unusual color
  • a growth has borders that are irregular
  • a growth is irritated and/or painful

If you are worried about any growth, make an appointment with your doctor. It is better to be too cautious than potentially ignore a serious problem.

Diagnosing Seborrheic Keratosis

A dermatologist will often be able to diagnose seborrheic keratosis by eye. However, if there is any uncertainty, part or all of the growth will be removed. This is called a biopsy.

The biopsy will be examined under a microscope. This can distinguish between seborrheic keratosis and cancer.

Common Treatment Methods for Seborrheic Keratosis

In many cases, seborrheic keratosis does not need treatment. However, a doctor may decide to remove one or more growths if they have a suspicious appearance. They may also be removed if they are causing physical or emotional discomfort.

Methods of Removal

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, two commonly used removal methods are cryosurgery and electrosurgery/curettage (AAD).

With cryosurgery, the growth is frozen off using liquid nitrogen.

Electrosurgery uses an electrical current to scrape the growth off. The area is numbed before the procedure.

After Removal

Your skin may be lighter at the site of removal. However, growths will not typically reappear in the same location. The difference in skin color often becomes less noticeable over time.

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