Although skin tags are very common, present in nearly half of all adults, many people worry that their skin tags are abnormal or cancerous. This may be because people associate skin tags with moles. While some skin tags resemble moles, this is where the similarities end. Moles can sometimes develop into a deadly cancer called melanoma, but skin tags are not cancerous. They are entirely benign, and they cause no complications, even from removing them. Skin tags are a purely cosmetic concern, with no medical repercussions.
Why Are Skin Tags Benign?
Skin tags are themselves benign tumors. This may be the cause of some of the confusion. The phrase ‘benign tumor’ often brings to mind its counterpart, ‘malignant tumor,’ making people wonder if some skin tags could be a malignant tumor. The word tumor in reference to skin tags is used in the sense that all abnormal growths are technically classified as tumors. However, even though skin tags are tumors, there is no possibility of a skin tag developing into a malignant neoplasm. A malignant neoplasm is the type of tumor that metastasizes and spreads to other organ systems; this is the type of tumor people tend to think of when they hear the word ‘tumor.’ These tumors are the ones that cause health problems. For a skin tag to be able to become a malignant tumor, the tissue inside would have to be able to reproduce in such a way that it could continue to grow uncontrollably. Uncontrolled cellular reproduction is what defines cancerous tumors; masses like skin tags that do not undergo uncontrolled growth will not cause problems. Skin tags generally do not grow. Once they appear they tend to remain static, not changing.
A skin tag is only a mass of fibrous connective tissue and blood vessels covered by skin and attached with a stalk of skin tissue. Fibrous connective tissue and vascular tissue (blood vessels) are slow to replicate; generally they only do so when there is some kind of injury, and then only when the tissues are fully integrated into an organ system. The tissues that are in skin tags are contained to the skin tag itself and will not replicate themselves. Since they do not have the ability to undergo uncontrolled cellular reproduction, skin tags cannot become cancerous tumors. They cannot metastasize and therefore are not hazardous.
Possible Complications of Skin Tags
The only complications that may arise from having skin tags have to do with where the skin tag is located. Skin tags located in the underarm area or on the groin, for instance, may interfere with shaving. Skin tags on the neck may be caught in jewelry and can be ripped off or otherwise injured. If the skin tag is cut or torn, it can be painful, but this pain is usually only a nuisance.
Having open wounds in an area that produces a lot of sweat can be potentially hazardous, since the kind of bacteria that live in these areas can be dangerous. Staphylococcus aureus is a bacteria commonly found on the skin; around twenty percent of people are long-term carriers of theses bacteria. If the bacteria get into the body, it can spread and cause an infection. Staphylococcus infection can be debilitating and even deadly, depending on the organ system it infects. If it remains on the skin, painful blisters, abscesses or carbuncles may appear.
Depending on how deep the infection gets, it may spread to the blood, and from there it may travel to other areas of the body and infect other organ systems. When bacteria are present in the bloodstream, widespread infection can occur, since blood travels to all organs and tissues in the body. When the whole body experiences inflammation from bacterial presence in the blood, it is called sepsis, and can be painful and sometimes fatal.
In addition, some strains of Staphylococcus aureus are also resistant to antibiotics; this type of Staphylococcus infection is called multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. It may be desirable to remove skin tags in areas where they may be injured in some way in order to avoid the kind of open wounds that leave you susceptible to skin infections.
Home Removal of Skin Tags
Removal of skin tags is fairly simple. Home remedies tend to work well on skin tags, since the blood supply to the skin tag only needs to be interrupted to encourage the skin tag to fall off on its own. Other treatments may dissolve the skin tag. Although cutting the skin tag off is easy to do at home, it is not advisable since the home is often not a sterile environment.
It is best to see a doctor about removing skin tags, since the clinical environment is cleaner than the home, and doctors have access to sterile instruments for cutting off the skin tags. Cutting off skin tags at home leaves the wound open to infections, which can needlessly complicate what should be a simple procedure. By visiting a doctor to remove the skin tags, you minimize the chances of contracting an infection. A doctor will use sterile instruments and can give you full care instructions to ensure your skin remains uninfected.
There are few complications caused by having or removing skin tags. Since they have no chance of becoming cancerous, there is no medical reason to remove them, and they can be left alone for the rest of a person’s life without causing any problems. They can be removed for cosmetic reasons or to keep them from snagging. This is usually the only reason problems would occur, if care is not taken to ensure that the area does not become infected.
Removal of skin tags by cutting them off is technically a type of surgery that should be performed by a doctor to avoid easily-preventable infections. Skin tags and moles may look similar to one another, so any doubts about whether a particular growth is a mole or skin tag should be taken to a doctor for evaluation.