Have you noticed a bump or small growth on your skin and wondered if it is a mole, a wart, or a skin tag? If you have difficulty identifying one lesion from the other, you are not alone. Rest assured that other than being an annoyance, skin tags and warts pose no real risk to your health; moles however have the potential to transform into skin cancer and should be followed by a skin care specialist or dermatologist.
Skin tags consist of a little ball of tissue on a stalk that hangs from the skin. They are the color of the surrounding skin, but occasionally can be hyper-pigmented. They occur in areas where skin rubs against another skin surface, occurring most frequently under the arms and around the neck. Skin tags usually start as a small bump in the skin which results in a ball of skin cells attached to your body by a stalk. Multiple lesions, sometimes up to 50 tags, are usually present. While skin tags are not a great risk to your health, they can become unsightly, painful, tender and quite annoying all of which require removal by a skin care specialist or dermatologist.
Commonly warts are usually fleshy and the color of the surrounding skin. Unlike skin tags that are on the surface, warts occur deep within the epidermis. Warts are most commonly caused by the human papillomavirus. Unlike skin tags that occur in the areas of friction, warts commonly appear on your hands and feet.
In children, without treatment, 20% of warts will disappear within one month, most warts disappear within 2 to 3 years. Spontaneous resolution may also occur in adults, but the average time to disappear is longer. Warts should be treated in spite of their tendency for spontaneous resolution. In adults, if you do not treat the warts, they will usually continue to grow in number as viral particles shed from the surface of the warts to other areas of the body. Warts are very contagious and can be spread from person to person as a result of direct contact.
You can contract the virus through a handshake, or using the gloves, the shoe or the towel of someone who had a wart. They can also be sexually transmitted and appear in the genital area. This means that if you notice a wart anywhere on your body, you should seek out treatment from a dermatologist or the appropriate specialist to have them removed as quickly as possible to avoid transmitting the virus to someone else.
While it may be tempting to remove a wart yourself, it is best not to as these attempts are usually not successful. Human papillomavirus lives in the skin cells and these must be destroyed to destroy the virus and prevent transmission to others.
Among the skin lesions listed in this post, moles are the only ones with the potential to transform into cancer. Moles tend to be pigmented and have hair on their surface. Their color is either tan or brown. Moles tend to be either flat or raised and are generally round. If you see a range of colors within one mole such as brown, black, tan and other colors, or if the mole is growing in size, has irregular borders or with surface that changes from flat to raised, you should consult a dermatologist who will evaluate the mole for possible transformation of the mole to skin cancer and treat it accordingly.
While warts are caused by a virus, certain skin cancers can look like a wart or blister. Therefore, you should carefully keep an eye on any wart, bump, or blister that does not go away after 6 weeks. If this is the case, you should definitely visit your dermatologist or skin care specialist. See disclaimer.
More information about this topic are available on the Anoki Skin Clinic website
I hope this helps,
Marie-Ange D. Tardieu, M.D.