What are Seborrheic Keratoses?
Seborrheic keratoses (SKs) are a common skin growths that affect those that are middle aged or older. Due to their appearance, they can often be a source of concern. However, these growths are harmless, although occasionally unsightly. Some estimates suggest that more than 90% of people over the age of 60 have SKs. They affect both men and women equally.
Although it is possible to develop just one SK, most people develop more. SKs are not contagious and do not spread. They have no relationship to skin cancer and do not pose a health risk. They are not painful, but can occasionally be itchy.
What do SKs look like?
SKs come in many different forms. They are usually thick and wart-like in appearance. Some can appear like candle wax on the skin. They can be flat or very bumpy, and range in colors from white, tan, brown, to black. But most are tan or brown. They appear on various locations, including the face, scalp, neck chest, stomach, shoulders, and back.
What causes SKs?
While the cause of SKs is not straightforward, they are found to be hereditary: if your family members have them, you are likely to get them as well. Those who are most likely to get SKs are fair-skinned. However, those with darker skin tones also experience them, in which case they tend to be smaller, rounder, and located around the face. They tend to increase with age. Children rarely will have SKs. Some research has suggested that sunlight may play a contributing role in producing SKs, but the relationship is not clear.
How are SKs diagnosed?
Seborrheic keratoses are diagnosed on visual examination. A dermatoscope may be used for closer visualization. Although harmless, some SKs can mimic the appearance of skin cancer. If this is the case, a biopsy will be performed to rule out other concerns.
How are SKs treated?
Because SKs are harmless, they often do not need treatment. A biopsy will be performed if there is any concern for an underlying skin cancer. Otherwise, an SK will be removed or destroyed if it becomes itchy or irritated easily, becomes unsightly to the patient, or gets caught on clothing or jewelry. SKs are removed or destroyed in various ways:
- Cryosurgery: the SK is frozen with liquid nitrogen. The SK then tends to fall off within days.
- Electrosurgery and curettage: This involves numbing the skin with a local anesthetic and using an electrical current to destroy the skin cells of the SK. Afterwards, an instrument called a curette is used to scrape off the treated growth. This procedures does not require stitches.
- Shave removal: the skin underneath the SK will be numbed with a local anesthetic, after which time the SK will be shaved off. This procedure does not require stitches.
Once the SK is treated, the skin may be lighter than the surrounding skin. Although the SK will not grow back, new SKs can develop elsewhere. Dr. Ryan Schuering has his office in Stuart, Florida. Contact him to schedule a consultation and learn about all your treatment options.