What are Skin Tags – Are they a Sign of Cancer?
What are Skin Tags?
Skin tags are soft, flesh-coloured tissue growths that hang off the skin by a thin, connecting stalk. They typically occur at sites of clothing or skin-to-skin friction such as the:
- under the breasts
Sizes and colour vary. Most skin tags lie between 1mm-5mm in diameter, rarely reaching beyond 5cm wide. Colours can range from light beiges to darker reds and browns depending on the skin tone of the affected individual. Most of the time, these tags darken due to age. However, in some cases, these growths can suddenly turn purple or black. This indicates that the tag has clotted.
Any new growth on your skin can be a cause for concern, especially if changes in size, shape or colour are observed quickly. Given the dangers of skin cancer, it is important to get any new growths to get checked out by a dermatologist.
Who Is At Risk of Skin Tags?
Anyone and everyone can develop a skin tag. In fact, it is estimated that 46% of the US population have them. Whilst they can occur at any age, they seem to appear more frequently in those aged 60 or above.
Skin tags are also more common in:
- people who are overweight and obese
- pregnant women (due to hormonal changes and an increase in growth factor levels)
- people with a sex-steroid imbalance (e.g. changes in estrogen and progesterone levels)
- people infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV)
- those who have metabolic disorders
Are Skin Tags Cancerous?
No. Fortunately enough, all skin tags are benign and non-cancerous – even the bigger and darker ones! They simply only contain collagen and therefore do not require any treatment.
However, is very possible to mistake cancerous lesions and moles for harmless growths. So, if any appear, it’s still best to consult with a dermatologist to help determine your case.
How do you Remove Skin Tags?
Skin tags are painless and are rarely dangerous. However, it is understandable if an individual wants to get them removed for cosmetic or aesthetic reasons.
For some, these growths can naturally rub off or fall off painlessly. In others, larger growths may burst under pressure. However, for most people skin tags do not usually fall off on their own. The only way to completely remove them is via the following procedures:
- Cauterization: The skin tag is burned off using an electric current.
- Cryosurgery: The skin tag is frozen with liquid nitrogen and falls off within 2 weeks.
- Ligation: The skin tag’s blood supply is interrupted.
- Excision: The skin tag is physically cut off with a scalpel
Avoid attempting any of these procedures at home; they should only be performed by a dermatologist or similarly-trained medical professional. Over-the-counter products and natural remedies have also been suggested to act as less invasive alternatives. These include:
- apple cider vinegar
- tea tree oil
- vitamin E creams and lotions
However, it is important to note that there is no current evidence to indicate that home remedy methods are better than surgical options.
Are Skin Tags a Sign of Other Health Concerns?
Despite being non-cancerous, skin tags could still be an indication of other medical disorders. Studies have found that these growths are more common in people who have dyslipidemia, hypertension or high blood pressure. They have also been associated with insulin resistance, thus making them a potential external sign for issues such as:
- cardiovascular disease
- metabolic syndrome
- lipid disorders
- Birt-Hogg-Dube Syndrome
- colonic polyps
- Crohn’s disease
- Skin tags are harmless, non-cancerous growth on the skin.
- They can come in various shapes, sizes and colours, and are mainly found on the neck, armpits and any other areas prone to friction.
- Always see a dermatologist if you develop any unusual growths that you are concerned about.
- The complete removal of tags is possible through professional surgical procedures.
- They could offer indications of other disorders such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and more.
About the Author:
My name is Rain Speake, a BSc Human Biology and MSc Healthcare Technology graduate from the University of Birmingham. I have an interest in skincare and dermatology and have previously undertaken research on the formulation of an anti-scarring spray for oral delivery. Beyond the lab, I enjoy keeping up to date with emerging scientific trends and communicating health-related topics to the public.
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