Updated: 2019, Jul 8

What Is Seborrheic Keratosis & How Is It Caused & Diagnosed?

Seborrheic Keratosis

What is Seborrheic Keratosis?

Seborrheic keratosis is a common growth on the skin. It is not a cancerous growth. It is a pigmented epidermal benign tumour. It has been given several names like senile warts, melanocanthoma, basal cell papilloma, senile keratosis and seborrheic warts. However the most commonly used term is seborrheic keratosis.

Seborrheic keratosis often develops in the older adults above the age of 50 years. Both males and females are affected without any sexual preference. It commonly appears over the trunk especially between the 2 scapula at the back, on the sides of the neck and on the face and arms. It does not appear over mucous membranes.

What do the Lesions Look like?

The lesions of seborrheic keratosis take the shape of a coin which appears as a bump on the skin. It has a rough feeling with a punched out surface. Sometimes, flat lesions may also appear which are often smooth to touch. Initially these lesions develop as small, rough lesions, which later develop into a thick surface which may look like warts.
Most commonly the lesions have a tan or a brown colour to it but the colour can vary from person to person. You may develop multiple lesions anywhere on the skin but it is also possible for you to develop just one.

Is it Contagious?

Seborrheic keratosis is not infective therefore you will not ‘catch’ it from a person with this condition. Neither can it spread from one person to another nor turn into a cancerous growth.

What Causes Seborrheic Keratosis?

The cause of Seborrheic keratosis is not yet known but several risk factors have been identified. The risk factors of seborrheic keratosis are:

  • Hereditary – If one of your family members have this condition, it is possible that you may also develop it. More the number of members affected, the higher your risk of developing seborrheic keratosis.
  • Elderly people – Older aged individuals particularly above 50 years of age are more at risk of developing seborrheic keratosis.
  • Exposure to sunlight – It has been found that frequent exposure to sunlight also increase the risk of seborrheic keratosis. However, you can develop this condition even if you are not frequently exposed to sunlight.
  • Human papilloma virus – Infections from the human papilloma virus may also increase the risk of seborrheic keratosis.
Exposure to sunlight

Should I Consult a Doctor for this?

Although seborrheic keratosis is a benign and harmless condition, you should always consult a doctor if you see any form of a skin growth. It is difficult to differentiate between the harmful and the harmless skin growths. Even if the skin lesion looks like seborrheic keratosis, it may actually be a melanoma (a very serious type of skin cancer). Therefore it is of vital importance that you check with your doctor.

How is it Diagnosed?

Seborrheic keratosis does not need any investigations to diagnose it. It is a clinical diagnosis which means you can diagnose it just by looking at it. However, if there is some kind of doubt, then your doctor will cut it out and send it for histology. This is known as a skin biopsy.

A pathologist will then view this under a microscope and confirm the diagnosis.

Should I get treatment for Seborrheic Keratosis?

No, there is no need for treatment as it is a very harmless condition. But sometimes, if your doctor has a doubt about the lesion, he/she may decide to remove it. If the lesion is large, gets irritated when your clothes rub against them or if you personally wish to remove this, then your doctor will decide to remove the lesion.

There 2 main methods that are practiced to remove this lesion. They are:

  • Cryosurgery – This involves the application of liquid nitrogen on to the lesion using a cotton swab. This will cause the lesion to freeze and fall off within a few days
  • Electro surgery and curettage – Before this procedure, local anesthesia is given to numb the area. Next, using an electric current the lesion is burnt. This burnt lesion is then scraped off using a curette (This is known as curettage). There will be minor bleeding and will not require any stitches. Most often either electro surgery or curettage will be necessary for the patient. Not both.
Sun Burn

Conclusion

Seborrheic keratosis is a benign harmless condition which may appear anywhere on the skin especially over the trunk between the scapulae, on the face and arms. Older age, exposure to sunlight, human papilloma virus infection and hereditary factors are some of the known risk factors of seborrheic keratosis. Seborrheic keratosis is diagnosed by eye and therefore does not need any investigations. A skin biopsy may be done when in doubt. Since it is a harmless condition it does not require any treatment. However, if the need arises, it can be treated with cryosurgery, electro surgery or curettage.

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