We have occasionally received questions about skin tags and whether these are a form of skin cancer. The most recent question involved a skin tag located under the breast.
While skin tags are not cancerous, it is important to be aware of any growths and monitor them to make sure you contact your doctor if there is a problem. If you do have skin tags, be sure to note the location and the appearance when doing a self-exam so you can monitor the growth.
Skin tags (acrochordon), a soft growth that hangs or protrudes from the skin, are considered tumors; however, they are rarely malignant. They usually are not harmful. Skin tags usually occur where skin rubs against skin, such as on the eyelids, armpits, under the breasts, in the groin or on the upper chest and neck.
Certain people are more at risk of developing skin tags:
- Individuals who are overweight
- People with diabetes
- Women who are pregnant
Heredity may also play a role in whether someone is more susceptible to developing skin tags. The risk increases with age, with tags becoming more common after mid life. According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 46 percent of the population in the United States have skin tags.
Symptoms of Skin Tags
Most people do not experience any pain from a skin tag. It usually begins as a small bump and grows into a piece of skin. You may notice that, when touched, it moves or wiggles. Because skin tags mostly occur in areas of the body where there are folds of skin, there a risk of irritation if it is rubbed by skin or clothing.
If the skin tag becomes twisted, it can cause a blood clot which may be painful and may need to be removed.
Most people don’t need any treatment for skin tags. However, if it becomes irritated or if you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious, you may want to have it removed. Your dermatologist can tell you what the best way to remove the tag. Some of the common ways are electrolysis, freezing it with liquid nitrogen, cutting it off or tying it with a suture to cut off the blood supply. Because removal of skin tags is considered cosmetic, your insurance may not cover the costs. Contact your insurance company beforehand so you understand if you will be responsible for the medical bills.
When to Contact Your Doctor
As with other skin lesions, if your skin tag changes color or are atypical, you should contact your dermatologist. While it is very rare for a skin tag to be cancerous, it is best for your doctor to do an examination.
“Cutaneous Skin Tag,” Updated 2012, Feb 28, Staff Writer, National Institutes of Health, MedLine Plus Medical Encyclopedia
“Skin Tags (Acrochordon)” 2007, Aug 27, Staff Writer, Harvard Health Publications
“What Are Skin Tags? What Causes Skin Tags?” 2007, Apr 8, Staff Writer, Medical News Today
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.