Skin Tags: Should They Be Removed?

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR

A friend of mine has a history of basal cell carcinoma (a benign type of skin cancer), and recently we were discussing skin protection from the sun. We then began discussing what types of skin surface abnormalities should be checked by a doctor, and which ones are very common and are in general, not a concern.

The discussion boiled down to: how does she (or for that matter you as a viewer), determine whether it is a mole, actinic keratosis, or skin tag? And what types of skin abnormalities should you be concerned about?

Skin tags are one such skin abnormality, and they are also very common. Skin tags - small portions of skin that appear to be attached to or protrude from normal skin - are a common benign condition of the skin. Usually just a few millimeters in diameter, skin tags vary in appearance. Some are the same color as surrounding skin while others are hyperpigmented (darker than surrounding skin). In most cases, they are attached to the underlying skin by a small band of tissue called a stalk or peduncle.

Photo Illustration: Skin Tags (Acrochordon)

The medical term for skin tag is acrochordon. Other synonyms that have sometimes been used to refer to skin tags include soft warts, soft fibromas, fibroepithelial polyps (FEP), fibroma pendulans, and pedunculated fibroma. Skin tags can occur in anyone but tend to increase in frequency as we age. They are also more common in obese persons, possibly due to increased irritation and rubbing of skin folds. Hormonal factors or aging processes may also play a role in the development of skin tags. Skin tags are most commonly found in or near the armpits (axillae) and on the neck, but they occur commonly in all skin folds (such as the groin) and on the back and abdomen.

Most skin tags are asymptomatic, meaning that they cause no symptoms. They are almost universally benign; reports of malignancies arising in skin tags are extremely rare. Skin tags can become irritated and inflamed, especially when located in skin folds or in areas where clothing rubs against them.

Most doctors recommend removal of skin tags only when they are irritated or a source of discomfort, or if they constitute a cosmetic problem. Skin tags can be easily removed in the doctor's office by tying or cutting them after injecting a small amount of a local anesthetic. Freezing, a technique sometimes used to remove warts or other benign lesions of the skin, is also sometimes performed for the removal of skin tags.

If you are unsure about any changes in your skin or growths arising on the skin, always check with your doctor. He or she can identify skin tags and other skin conditions and can help you decide whether skin abnormalities should be removed.

For more, please read the Skin Tag article.

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