A cyst is a fluid-filled lump that forms in the deeper layers of skin when a hair follicle becomes blocked. They can be uncomfortable and unsightly but are harmless (benign). Nevertheless, any suspicious growth on the skin should be examined by a dermatologist to determine whether it is cancerous. If infected, a cyst may require treatment with antibiotics. Patients with large or painful cysts may choose to undergo minor surgery. Cysts can occur anywhere on the body but commonly appear on the face and scalp, trunk and fingernails. They include acne whiteheads and comedones, milia, and dermoid, epidermal, trichilemmal and pilar cysts.
A lipoma is a benign soft-tissue tumor that can be found anywhere on the skin and is most common in middle-aged patients. Lipomas rarely become cancerous and are not usually a medical concern unless they become infected. However, many people are bothered by the appearance of lipomas and seek treatment to have them removed.
Lipomas can be removed through surgical excision, which removes the sac or lipoma wall, as well as the entire lipoma. This is done under a local anesthetic and closed with stitches. Most lipomas do not return after surgical excision.
Moles and other birthmarks are benign pigmented spots or patches of skin that range in color from tan, brown and black (moles) to red, pink or purple (vascular lesions, such as strawberry hemangiomas or port wine stains). Though most birthmarks are harmless, they may develop into cancer. Moles exhibiting any of the following warning signs should be examined by a professional immediately:
- Larger than six millimeters.
- Itches or bleeds.
- Rapidly changes in color, size or shape.
- Has multiple colors.
- Is located where it can't be easily monitored, such as on the scalp.
Depending on their depth, location and color, as well as the patient's skin type, age and other factors, treatment for benign but unattractive birthmarks may take the form of laser or pulsed light therapy, microdermabrasion or surgical excision.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and involves abnormal growths of skin cells that can form anywhere on the body, but most frequently appear on skin that is exposed to the sun. There are more than a million new cases of skin cancer in the US each year. Although most cases of skin cancer can be successfully treated, it is still important to keep skin safe and healthy and try to prevent this disease.
There are three major types of skin cancer that affect associated layers of the skin. These major types are:
- Squamous cell carcinoma affects the squamous cells, which are just below the outer surface of the skin and serve as the inner lining.
- Basal cell carcinoma affects the basal cells, which lay under the squamous cells and produce new skin cells.
- Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and affects the melanocytes, which produce melanin.
Everyday, skin cells die and new ones form to replace them in a process controlled by DNA. Skin cancer can form when this process does not work properly because of damage to DNA. New cells may form when they are not needed or older cells may not die. This can cause a growth of tissue known as a tumor. DNA damage is often a result of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps. Since skin cancer can sometimes affect areas not exposed to the sun, heredity may also be a factor.
Certain factors, such as fair skin, moles, a weakened immune system and age, can also increase the risk of skin cancer.
Signs and Symptoms
Skin cancer can often be identified as a new or changed growth on the skin that may often occur on the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms, hands or legs. The appearance of the growth depends on the type of cancer, but can appear as:
- Pearly or waxy bump
- Flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion
- Firm, red nodule
- Crusted, flat lesion
- Large brown spot with darker speckles
- Mole that changes shape or color
- Shiny, firm bumps
A skin tag is a common type of skin growth that looks like a piece of hanging skin and most often develops on the neck, underarms, eyelids and under the breasts often as a result of clothing rubbing against the skin. Most skin tags are acquired, although some people are born with them.
While skin tags are not cancerous and don't cause problems unless they are continuously irritated, many people choose to have them removed for precautionary or cosmetic purposes. There are several different ways to effectively remove skin tags, including freezing, burning and removing with scissors. Small tags may be removed without the use of anesthesia, while larger ones may require a local anesthetic. These treatments are usually effective in removing the growth, but may cause temporary skin discoloration or bleeding. Your doctor will decide which treatment option is best for you.