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Seborrheic keratosis

Definition

Seborrheic keratosis is a condition that causes wart-like growths on the skin. The growths are noncancerous (benign).

Alternative Names

Benign skin tumors - keratosis; Keratosis - seborrheic; Senile keratosis

Causes

Seborrheic keratosis is a benign form of skin tumor. The cause is unknown.

The condition commonly appears after age 40. It tends to run in families.

Symptoms

Symptoms of seborrheic keratosis are skin growths that:

  • Are located on the face, chest, shoulders, back, or other areas
  • Are painless, but may become irritated and itch
  • Are most often tan, brown, or black
  • Have a slightly raised, flat surface
  • May have a rough texture (like a wart)
  • Often have a waxy surface
  • Are round or oval in shape
  • May look like a piece of bee's wax that has been "pasted-on" the skin
  • Often appear in clusters

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will look at the growths to determine if you have the condition. You may need a skin biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment

You usually DO NOT need treatment unless growths get irritated or affect your appearance.

Growths may be removed with surgery or freezing (cryotherapy).

Outlook (Prognosis)

Removing the growths is simple and usually does not cause scars. You may have patches of lighter skin where growths on the torso have been removed.

Growths usually DO NOT return after they are removed. You may develop more growths in the future if you are prone to the condition.

Possible Complications

These complications may occur:

  • Irritation, bleeding, or discomfort of growths
  • Mistake in diagnosis (growths may look like skin cancer tumors)
  • Distress due to physical appearance

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you have symptoms of seborrheic keratosis.

Also call if you have new symptoms, such as:

  • A change in the appearance of the skin growth
  • New growths
  • A growth that looks like a seborrheic keratosis, but occurs by itself or has ragged borders and irregular color. Your provider will need to examine it for skin cancer.

References

Habif TP. Benign skin tumors. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 20.

Motley RJ. Seborrheic kertosis. In: Lebwohl MG, Heymann WR, Berth-Jones J, Coulson I, eds. Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 220.

Review Date:10/24/2016
Reviewed By:David L. Swanson, MD, Vice Chair of Medical Dermatology, Associate Professor of Dermatology, Mayo Medical School, Scottsdale, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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