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Seborrheic keratosis is a very common harmless, usually pigmented, noncancerous growth on the skin. It usually appears as a pale, black or brown growth on the back, shoulders chest or face, but can appear anywhere on the skin.
The plural of keratosis is keratoses. Seborrheic keratoses are also known as basal cell papillomas or seborrheic warts.
They tend to appear from middle-age onwards. Some individuals may have just one, however, most people who have them have several.
Seborrheic keratosis is not contagious.
Note on spelling: USA/Canada - seborrheic. UK, Ireland, Australasia - seborrhoeic.
Seborrheic keratoses may look like:
However, they are different from the skin growths mentioned above. Seborrheic keratoses have a waxy look. They look as if they were pasted on the skin. Some may look like a blob of brown candle wax on the skin, while others have the appearance of the barnacles that stick to the legs of a pier.
Dermatologists are not completely sure why seborrheic keratoses develop.
Unlike moles, seborrheic keratosis is not caused by a virus.
The doctor should be able to diagnose seborrheic keratosis after a visual and physical examination.
As the darker lesions may sometimes look like skin cancer (nodular melanoma), the doctor may recommend taking a biopsy which will be examined under a microscope.
In an analysis of 9204 cases of diagnosed seborrheic keratosis, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School reported in JAMA Dermatology that 61 cases (0.66%) were found to be of melanoma after taking biopsies and testing them (histological examinations).
If the seborrheic keratosis is on the skin and is very thin, it might be hard to rule out lentigo maligna (cancer cells that do not appear to have spread).
If the doctor is sure it is seborrheic keratosis and not something more serious, he or she will explain that no treatment is needed.
Removal of the growth may be recommended if:
On most occasions, if a biopsy is to be done the dermatologist will probably remove the seborrheic keratosis.
There are several ways of removing seborrheic keratosis:
The Mayo Clinic in the United States says that most insurance companies and Medicare do not pay for the removal of seborrheic keratoses if done just for cosmetic reasons. The British Association of Dermatologist also informs "Such treatments may not be funded by the local NHS service."
After the seborrheic keratosis has been removed, the skin in that area may be lighter, and also some surrounding skin. In time this usually fades, but not always.
In the vast majority of cases, the growth does not return, but new ones may appear in other parts of the body.
In the video below, dermatologist Kevin St.Clair M.D., discusses the diagnosis and management of seborrheic keratoses.
Written by Christian Nordqvist
Copyright: Medical News Today
Not to be reproduced without the permission of Medical News Today.
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Nordqvist, Christian. "What is seborrheic keratosis?." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 28 Sep. 2013. Web.
10 Mar. 2014. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266748>
Nordqvist, C. (2013, September 28). "What is seborrheic keratosis?." Medical News Today. Retrieved from
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