How to tell if your growth is something to be concerned about

Almost every single person on earth has a skin irregularity of some kind. Whether it’s a mole or a skin tag, a boil or a freckle, people from all walks of life and all ages can have them.

But sometimes we might spot something that concerns us. Most of the time, it’s nothing to worry about, but how can you be sure?

Below we have found the most common skin growths and bumps, and whether it’s normal or not.

As always, this is simply information and should not be substituted for medical advice from your doctor.

1. Benign moles

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Most people have between 10 and 40 moles, and they can be small light brown to black spots that are flat or raised, and may have dark hairs on them.

If your moles are symmetrical in shape and almost the same colour all over, this is normal, though you should always check for any changes.

You can have a mole removed for cosmetic purposes if it is not considered dangerous or cancerous.

2. Seborrheic keratoses

These are wart-like brown spots that tend to look like they’re stuck on the skin and can be multiple sizes. They may have a cauliflower texture and be on scalps and faces. They are caused by the way the skin is maturing.

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If they’re small, you can get cryotherapy in which liquid nitrogen is applied to quickly freeze them off. Most of the time, these are nothing to worry about and are not cancerous.

3. Skin tags

Almost all of us will develop a skin tag at some point – they’re often flesh coloured or slightly darker than our skin and can be found in our armpits or neck.

Ask your doctor if they can be removed if they become infected or are causing other issues.

4. Lipomas

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Lipomas are round lumps of fat under the skin. It’s unknown why lipomas occur, though a poor diet and lack of exercise can be to blame. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and people who have one lipoma may have several.

If you have pain or swelling, see your GP who can arrange for treatment that may involve surgical removal.

5. Thyroid nodules

These are hard nodules that don’t hurt or move and can be found in the lower half of the neck.

The cause of thyroid nodules is not known but should be verified as benign by your doctor if you’re concerned.

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6. Cysts

Cysts will feel like a soft grape and can be tender to the touch. These fluid-filled sacs are common in breasts and the genital area. If it is sensitive, apply warm, moist compresses and antibiotic cream. If there’s no pain, you can leave it alone.

7. Actinic Keratosis

AKs are small, rough, and raised areas found on the face, scalp, or arms, and are typically caused by sun damage. While AKs are not skin cancer, they have the potential to turn into skin cancer. If you’ve noticed they’ve changed or multiplied, see your doctor ASAP.

8. Basal Cell Cancer

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Basal cell lesions are characterised by appearing “dome-like” on the skin, and are a form of skin cancer. You will need this removed if you have spotted one, as they can grow larger with time. Thankfully, once removed, there is no further risk.

What to do if you’re concerned

There’s no easy way to tell if a lump is cancerous from the outside, but there are a few telltale signs:

– A hard, immovable lump that isn’t tender
– Any bump in the breast or genital area that persists longer than a few weeks
– A growth that seems to be enlarging rapidly

Use the ABCD Skin Exam

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Asymmetry – more concerning moles are not regular and symmetric (like a circle).
Border – more concerning moles have a jagged or irregular border.
Colour change – more concerning moles have more than one colour and lack uniformity.
Diameter – more concerning moles are greater than 5 mm (or the size of a pencil eraser).

Remember, if there is any uncertainty or concern, see your doctor for further evaluation.

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