Skin tags are completely benign growths of skin. They are common among adults, and uncommon but not abnormal in children, teenagers and young adults. Despite the high numbers of people who develop skin tags at some point in their lives, some are concerned about skin tags. They may worry it is a sign of a precancerous condition or some other skin condition. However, skin tags are entirely benign growths.
The concerns about skin cancer in relation to skin tags may result from confusion about other kind of skin lesions and their relationship to cancer. For instance, people who are concerned about skin tags causing or leading to cancer may be equating skin tags with moles, which sometimes do develop into skin cancer. Knowing the difference between certain types of skin lesions can be helpful in deciding whether a new growth on the skin is worth a trip to the doctor, but if in doubt it is always best to see a physician or skin specialist about suspicious lesions, since the expertise of a qualified medical professional is the best resource for evaluating health risks.
Anatomy of Skin Tags
A skin tag is a fleshy outgrowth of skin that protrudes from the rest of the skin, suspended by a thin stalk of flesh. Skin tags are composed of fibrovascular tissue, which is a combination of vascular tissue and connective tissue. Normal skin covers the fibrovascular tissue, and the fleshy part of the skin tag is attached to the rest of the skin by a thin stalk of skin tissue. The skin tag may be the same color as the surrounding skin, or it may have a brown, pink or purple coloration.
One characteristic of a skin tag that may cause a person to become alarmed is its size. Although most skin tags are roughly the same size as a grain of rice, they may be much larger. Some may grow to the size of a large grape; others can be even larger. Despite their size, these skin tags are no more harmful than their smaller counterparts. Larger skin tags often appear in the underarm or groin area, where they may interfere with hygiene activities such as shaving. For this reason, people who are other uninterested in removing their skin tags may wish to remove the largest ones, as they can be cut during shaving and become quite painful.
Skin Tags and Moles
Skin tags differ from other types of skin growths and lesions. Moles are the skin lesion most commonly associated with skin cancer, specifically melanoma. Whereas skin tags are composed of fibrovascular tissue and skin, moles are clusters of a specialized type of skin cell called melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells that are responsible for giving skin its pigment. The pigmentation of the skin is particularly important in protecting the skin from the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation. When melanocytes cluster and form moles, they overproduce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color.
Why moles form is unknown, but sun exposure seems to be the most common cause of new moles. Moles also differ from skin tags because of their association with melanoma, a rare but deadly form of skin cancer that accounts for five percent of skin cancer cases but seventy percent of skin cancer-related deaths. Skin tags are not made of tissue that can become cancerous. The tissue in skin tags does not reproduce which means it cannot form a tumor. Tumors are masses of tissue that undergo unchecked cellular reproduction.
Some moles may change in color, shape, size or other characteristics. These changes can indicate that the mole is growing. A mole that grows is somewhat likely to be a precancerous mole, which can lead to cancer. Skin tags are incapable of this. Moles should generally be removed by a medical professional so that analysis of the mole tissue can be performed to ensure that the mole was not cancerous. Skin tag removal can easily be performed at home, and there is no need to analyze the skin tag since there is no risk of cancer associated with skin tags.
Skin Tags and Warts
Skin tags and warts are sometimes mistaken for each other. Warts are benign tumors that are caused by the human papillomavirus. They are small growths, rough in texture, that most often appear on the hands or feet. Skin tags are not caused by viruses, but rather by friction on the skin, particularly when skin rubs against skin continually. There is some evidence, however, that certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) may encourage the formation of new skin tags. The link between HPV and skin tags is not fully understood.
Since skin tags are not directly caused by a virus, they are not contagious. This is contrast to warts, which may be contagious under some conditions, although it is more likely that warts will spread and form new warts on the same host. For instance, if a person has a wart that they must shave over, he may spread the virus that causes the wart across a wider area of skin, and new warts may appear. Skin tags can be removed through off-label use of wart removal products.
Knowing the difference between different types of skin growths is important, since it can give the person an idea of how to properly care for or remove the growths. It is generally easy to differentiate between skin tags, moles and warts, but sometimes they may all look alike. However, if you doubt your judgment, particularly if you are worried about a new growth being a mole, it is best to visit a doctor.
You may be referred to dermatologist, who will evaluate the health of your skin and help you decide the best course of action for removing any growths that may need to be removed. If the new growth is not a mole, you will likely be able to perform removal at home, particularly if the growth is a skin tag. However, any removal involving cutting, burning or other potentially dangerous methods should be left up to specialists, since they can remove these growths with minimal scarring and little chance of infection.