Moles, Tags & Warts- What’s What???

There are LOTS of different types of skin growths: skin tags, moles, warts, keratoses, freckles, sun spots, age spots, and the list goes on…and on…and on. The good news is that most of them are totally harmless and will not turn into skin cancer. The bad news is that you get more of them as you get older and they usually don’t go away on their own.

So, what should you be concerned about?

First of all, it is important to identify real moles, which are made of melanocytes because they are at risk for becomingmelanoma, a dangerous type of skin cancer. Many harmless spots can look very similar to moles. This is where your dermatologist comes in handy—he/she can identify the real moles and determine if they look suspicious for melanoma. Dermatologists can also identify other types of skin cancer that may mimic other growths.

So, if it’s harmless, what is it?

Some of the most common things that I see in patients of all ages are warts. They are caused by a virus (HPV), so it’s good to get them treated since they usually only grow and create other warts over time! In most cases, one cannot specifically identify a person who gave him/her warts (non-genital), because the virus that causes them is so common in the environment. You do not need close personal contact with someone to get a common wart.

Skin tags are another common growth in adults. They are little floppy skin bumps that can get caught on clothing and jewelry. They are usually on the neck, in the armpits, under the breasts and in the groin. Harmless, but often just annoying.

Angiomas are the little red bumps or flat spots that adults get. They tend to increase in number with age. In most cases, if you have them, one of your parents did as well. Again, totally benign, but they can bleed if they are irritated.

Sun spots and seborrheic keratoses are other lesions that mostly come with sun exposure and age, respectively. People who get them can get hundreds of them, so they can really affect the appearance of one’s skin, especially when you get them on the face.

Can they be treated and how do you treat them?

Yes, of course! Mostly any skin growth or spot can be removed by a variety of methods. If there is any chance that a lesion could be skin cancer, then a biopsy is required so that the specimen can be examined under the microscope. If there is no medical concern, then there may be options about how to remove a lesion. The doctor’s decision depends on the type and location of the lesion and the patient’s skin type.

Patients often ask about laser removal of various spots. Lasers can be a great option, but work best for relatively flat lesions (those you cannot feel as you run your finger over them), those made of blood vessels (like angiomas) or dark pigment (like sun spots), and those in patients with pale skin types.

Thicker lesions (like keratoses or warts) or hanging lesions, like skin tags are better treated with “snipping” them or “freezing” them with liquid nitrogen.

Altogether, the best method of removal is the one that gives you the best cosmetic outcome in the end and rids you of your bothersome moles, tags, warts, keratoses, sun spots, etc.