Common Benign Growths

Many people visit the dermatologist to make sure various lesions or growths are not suspicious for cancer. It turns out that most growths are benign. What makes some lesions alarming is that they are:

1. new

2. change size or color

3. increase in number

4. symptomatic (itchy, pain, bleed, etc.)

The above reasons definitely warrant a visit to the dermatologist. If what is examined is harmless, knowing what is a benign lesion is just as important as suspecting a dangerous one. There are several common benign growths. Many are inherited, and some develop as a result of trauma. A few common benign growths will be highlighted.

Skin tags are common growths that develop at any age, but often increase in number as we age. They often occur in areas of fold and friction (i.e. under the arms, neck, groin). Skin tags are skin-colored or brown, protrude from the skin, and often have a narrow base. Removal is optional, but treatment is often sought due to skin tags getting irritated by jewelry and clothing. Skin tags are easily clipped or burned with electrocautery.

Cherry Angiomas are bright red, flat or elevated growths that are also inherited. They are made up of multiple small blood vessels, thus, some may need removal due to bleeding. These, too, increase with age, and occur anywhere on the body, especially on the chest, abdomen and back. Treatment options include electrocautery, laser or surgical removal (particularly for larger ones).

Seborrheic keratoses are probably the most common benign growths that people are worried about until they are familiar with their natural history. Seborrheic keratoses are inherited and can increase in number with age. They can become quite numerous. Seborrheic keratoses can start out skin color, and over time become quite dark, even black in color. They increase in size, and can look thicker in appearance. Seborrheic keratoses are cobblestone in texture and have a stuck-on appearance. Occasionally, they can look somewhat smooth, simulating a melanoma, thus, even the dermatologist may want to biopsy some that may not look like a textbook seborrheic keratosis. Seborrheic keratoses are commonly treated by freezing with liquid nitrogen. Larger lesions may be removed surgically.

Dermatosis Papulosa Nigra (DPNs) are small brown growths that are elevated, but often have to be touched to realize there is texture. DPNs are inherited, and are common in people with skin of color. They are often thought to be a small variant of seborrheic keratoses. DPNs are most common on the face, neck, chest and back. Treatment is successful with electrocautery.

Dermatofibromas are pink to brown growths that occur due to trauma, such as a bug bite. They are common on the extremities, especially the legs. Dermatofibromas differ from regular fleshy moles in that they are firm like scar tissue. Like other benign growths, treatment is optional, but removal can be achieved surgically.

Benign growths can be removed due to symptoms or simply for aesthetic reasons. Most lesions removed can recur over time and/or a new subset can develop, particularly for those lesions that are inherited. Many of these growths are easily recognized, especially when it is not the first time seeing them. However, whether it is old or new, when in doubt, always get checked by the dermatologist.

Dr. Dwana Shabazz received her undergraduate degree at Xavier University of Louisiana and both her medical degree and masters of public health degree at George Washington University. She remained at George Washington University for her internship in Internal Medicine. She then moved to Los Angeles for her Dermatology Residency at King Drew Medical Center/Harbor-UCLA. Dr. Shabazz has been in private practice in the Northern Virginia area since 2006. She opened her own practice, Renascance Dermatology, in 2013. Dr. Shabazz is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, a Diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology, and a member of the Women’s Dermatologic Society.