Are Skin Tags Cancerous?

Just like other abnormal skin growths, skin tags are caused by the uncontrolled proliferation of cells. Why this happens is still not clear, and while cancer can be defined the same way, what is known for sure is that skin tags are not cancerous. 

Some people only get one or two skin tags in their lifetime. Others get them in clusters. Some skin tags only grow to the size of a single grain, while others can get as big as a grape. Their numbers or size are also not indicative of cancer. As annoying as they can be, skin tags are permanently benign. 

They will stick around, pun intended, for the rest of your life; they won’t fall off on their own. So if you do want them removed because they’re not pleasant to look at, you do have treatment options available that are safe and effective. 

What, exactly, are skin tags?

Skin tags, or acrochordons, are small and loosely hanging flaps or pouches of skin that contains collagen fibers and blood vessels. They are attached to the surface of the skin by an even smaller stalk of flesh, called a peduncle. They are usually flesh-colored, so if not for the fact that they tend to literally stick out, skin tags would be totally inconspicuous. 

These growths are normally found in areas of the body with skin folds, such as the eyelids, neck, armpits, and groin. Their “preferred” location of growth is why scientists theorize that they can be caused by skin rubbing against skin or other surfaces such as clothing. This theory is also supported by the fact that overweight and obese individuals tend to have skin tags where they have excess skin folds. 

Can skin tags eventually become cancerous?

Much like a tumor, a skin tag can grow in size over time. Unlike a tumor, this growth also does not indicate that the skin tag is cancerous. It’s just one more annoying thing they do. They can be bothersome if they get snagged or scratched often, or if they start to chafe because of constant friction. Any of these scenarios can cause skin tag infection, especially if there is bleeding. When this happens, you should consider having it checked by a doctor so it can be treated properly. 

If a skin tag is conspicuous, i.e. it is big and/or it grows in a visible area such as the neck, it can be unsightly and make one feel self-conscious. Skin tag removal, in this instance, becomes a cosmetic option. 

When should you see a doctor?

A skin tag can go unnoticed indefinitely, or you can choose to simply ignore it if it doesn’t bother you in any way. But there are instances when you should have your skin tag checked by a doctor. 

As previously mentioned, an infected skin tag might need medical attention. It is normal for a skin tag to bleed because it contains blood vessels, but any open wound is susceptible to infection. You can opt to treat it at home, just as you would ordinary wounds, but if you want to prevent scarring and infection, a visit to the doctor is your best option. 

You should also seriously consider visiting a doctor if a skin tag becomes itchy, red, or inflamed. These are common signs of infection and require proper treatment. What you thought was a skin tag may also not be a skin tag at all if you experience these unusual symptoms. It could be a mole, which can be easily confused with a skin tag, and unlike skin tags, a mole can become cancerous. 

Any sudden and drastic changes in the appearance of a skin tag may also be a cause for concern. If a skin tag grows too big or changes in color, for example, your doctor will most likely require a biopsy. This involves taking a tissue sample and sending it to a lab for testing. The biopsy will tell the doctor if there is a more serious problem and if the skin tag needs to be removed. 

The appearance of skin tags has also been associated with certain conditions, particularly pre-diabetes, diabetes, and hormonal imbalance. If you have not been diagnosed with any of these and you suddenly notice these abnormal skin growths, you should get a full work-up. 

Can skin tags be prevented? 

Because there is no definite cause, there is also no guaranteed way of preventing skin tags. Knowing the risk factors, however, can help you minimize your risk of developing acrochordons. 

  • Have a proper skincare routine. This will help minimize skin friction, chafing, and irritation. 
  • Have a healthy diet and exercise regularly to stay fit. If you prevent weight gain, you eliminate one of the risk factors for skin tags. 
  • Having a healthy lifestyle also helps prevent diabetes, another skin tag risk factor. If you are genetically predisposed to being overweight, obese, diabetic, it’s even more important that you keep a close eye on your weight. 
  • As much as possible, do not wear tight-fitting clothes. 

What are your options for skin tag removal?

Skin tags can be classified as either common or irritated. Common skin tags can be completely ignored, or they can be removed if you feel that they are visually annoying or, in other words, have become a cosmetic problem. 

In such a case, you can try a number of over-the-counter products for at-home treatment. These include ligation bands, skin tag removal creams, and freeze sprays. Alternative treatments include tea tree oil, castor oil, and even ligation with a piece of floss or cotton string. Needless to say, you should take all necessary precautionary measures and follow the proper steps when employing alternative home remedies. 

Medical treatment is recommended for skin tags that have become irritated. Treatment options include surgical excision; cryotherapy; laser treatment; and electric cauterization. Any of these options can also be done skin tag removal that is solely cosmetic in purpose if you have the budget for it; if the skin tag is bigger than normal; or if the problem is a skin tag cluster. 

Although not always necessary, removal of an irritated skin tag also usually involves a biopsy. The removed skin tag is taken to a lab for further tissue evaluation so your doctor can determine if there is another medical condition that needs to be addressed, or if it is a simple, localized infection. 

Final Thoughts

There is no association between skin tags and cancer. But any skin growth that becomes irritated, infected, or problematic in any other way should be properly checked and, if necessary, treated by a doctor. If you notice any abnormal changes to the appearance of a skin tag, you should also consider having it checked. 

Additionally, a skin tag can be easily confused for other types of skin growths, such as a mole or wart. Moles and warts can become potentially problematic, so correct identification of a skin growth is important. You wouldn’t want to make the mistake of removing a mole through an alternative method because you thought it was a skin tag. You might end up with a more serious problem on your hands. 

So when in doubt, always consult a doctor.