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Thursday, September 12, 2024

Name that Skin Growth

During visits with my grandmother over the past 10 years or so, I’ve noticed scaly brown patches or moles on her face and arms that seem quite different from all the other moles I have ever seen. I always wondered what they were – and they raised many concerning questions – but she has always reassured me they are not skin cancer. She claims the doctor keeps an eye on them and that they are a normal part of aging.

Well, I’m here to tell you she is right. I finally took a moment to get educated and I thought I would share the information. Keratosis is the name I can finally connect to these odd looking skin patches. There are two common types of Keratosis: Actinic and Seborrheic.

Actinic Keratosis

Actinic Keratosis is a rough, scaly and flat or slightly raised patch on the skin ranging in color (flesh, pink, red or brown) caused from years of sun exposure. They are typically found on the face, lips, ears, back of the hands, forearms, scalp or neck. Sizes range to an inch or less. They typically form on older adults and grow slowly throughout the years, causing an occasional itch or burning sensation. They may pop up after sun exposure and then disappear only to return again at a later time. They may also become hard and wart-like over time. Although they are not cancerous, they can turn into skin cancer. Consequently, it is always a good idea to have your doctor monitor their appearance and growth.

Seborrheic Keratosis

Seborrheic Keratosis is a waxy, scaly and slightly elevated oval growth on the skin ranging in color (light tan, brown, or black) with no known cause other than the possibility of heredity. They are typically found on the face, chest, shoulders or back in older adults. Sizes range from very small to over an inch. They look more like skin cancer than Actinic Keratosis; however, they do not become cancerous. Although itchy at times, Seborrheic Keratosis growths are not painful. If they rub against clothing becoming irritated and inflamed, the annoyance factor is raised, and you may decide to have them removed. Because they look so much like skin cancer, it is always a good idea to have your doctor check them out to get a solid diagnosis.

Treatment and Prevention

Removal options for either form of Keratosis are similar in that both can be treated by freezing (cryotherapy) and scraping (curettage). However, Actinic Keratosis has the additional options of creams/ointments, chemical peels, photodynamic therapy, laser therapy, and dermabrasion. While Seborrheic Keratosis’s only other treatment options are being burned with an electric current (electrocautery) and/or vaporizing the growth with a laser (ablation). All treatment options have pros and cons; therefore, it is best to discuss in detail with your doctor to determine which treatment option is best for you and your skin type. Keep in mind that if either form is treated for cosmetic reasons most insurance plans will not cover the costs unless the growth becomes a medical issue.

Although Seborrheic Keratosis cannot be prevented, Actinic Keratosis is preventable. Unless you like the look of Keratosis, avoid the sun by covering up, using sunscreen and limiting your time in the sun. Check your skin regularly with mirrors to monitor any new growths or changes in existing growths to point out to your doctor.

Information taken from:

Carrie Robertson
Research & Community Education
Chicago Skilled Nursing

Chicago Senior Living

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