Cancerous Skin Tags – What Should You Watch Out For

Skin tags cannot be cancerous. Although they are abnormal growths, they are relatively harmless. They are simply tiny skin protrusions or extensions that hang by an even tinier stalk of flesh. However, a cancerous lump on the skin can be mistaken for a skin tag. 

Skin tumor or skin cyst?

A skin tumor can be mistaken for a skin tag or a skin cyst. The major distinguishing characteristics of a skin tag is the tiny stalk that attaches the sac-like protrusion to the skin. A skin tumor and a skin cyst, however, are both lumps under the skin, so differentiating the two is more difficult. 

A skin tumor typically grows quickly; and it can grow so big that it can cause discomfort. A skin tumor is also firm when touched; it won’t budge when you try to push it. Lastly, a skin tumor does not have an eye at the center or any form of discharge. 

But not all skin tumors are cancerous; some are benign and remain so for the rest of your life. Other skin tumors are cancerous, and this can only be confirmed by a doctor/dermatologist through an initial physical inspection of the growth and a biopsy. 

A skin cyst is easier to identify. It usually has an eye – a blackhead – at the center of the lump. The growth often becomes red and swollen. When you try to push it, it shifts underneath the skin. It is soft and rarely grows; if it does grow, the growth is very slow. 

A skin cyst is rarely cancerous, although it can be. Again, only a dermatologist will be able to determine if the growth is cancerous or benign.  

Whether or not the lump under your skin is a tumor or cyst, it is always best to get it checked by a doctor so you can get a definitive diagnosis. 

What about moles?

Moles also resemble skin tags, especially because some moles appear to be “hanging” loosely from the skin. Unlike skin tags, however, moles often become more darkly pigmented when exposed to the sun. They also grow, and this often indicates that the mole may be cancerous. 

A cancerous mole is often a melanoma, which is the most severe form of skin cancer you can get from a mole. A malignant melanoma can spread to other parts of the body if not treated immediately. Malignant melanoma’s cure rate depends on the stage of the cancer when it was detected. 

More often than not, however, moles are not cancerous. But a benign mole can still become cancerous. This is why doctors always advise to keep a close eye on a mole and to take note of any sudden changes to its physical appearance. 

look for is the symmetry of the mole
A dark mole on the shoulder of a woman being checked through a magnifying glass.

Asymmetry. Normal moles are oval or circular in shape. If a mole develops a more irregular or asymmetrical shape, e.g. half of the mole becomes a different color or one side is curved while the other is straight, this could be a sign that the mole is cancerous. 

Border. One distinguishing characteristic of a mole is that it has a distinct border. You should be able to see where it ends and where the skin begins. A cancerous mole may have an uneven or rough border, or a border that looks like it’s disintegrating or fading away. 

Color. A mole should only be a solid shade of either brown or black. If the mole has varying shades of brown or black, you should have a dermatologist take a look at it. A mole that has any tan, red, blue, or white shades on it is more likely a cancerous mole and should be immediately evaluated by a dermatologist. 

Diameter. A benign mole is typically smaller than a pencil eraser in diameter. A mole that grows to a bigger size than this should be checked by a doctor as any significant increase in size may be indicative of cancer.  

Height. A harmless mole is normally flat; it looks like a simple darker mark on the skin. A raised mole has a likelihood of becoming cancerous. 

Other changes. Any other sudden change that you observe should prompt you to visit a doctor. If a mole becomes itchy or irritated, or if it starts bleeding, you should have it checked. 

Watch out for these signs and seek medical advice if you think that a mole may be cancerous. The earlier a melanoma is caught, the earlier you can receive treatment, and the higher the chance that the cancer will be cured. 

Final Thoughts

A skin tag is a benign growth and does not pose any health risks. But it is important to make sure that you have not misidentified a skin tag. It may look like a skin tumor, skin cyst, or a mole – all of which carry varying degrees of risk of becoming cancerous. 

If you’re not able to definitively identify what type of skin growth you have, seek the advice of a healthcare professional. The thought that what you might have is not a simple and harmless skin tag can be a scary one; but it is always better to know for sure. If what you have is a skin tumor, skin cyst, or a mole, it won’t necessarily mean that it’s cancerous or that it will develop into cancer. But once you know what the growth is, you’ll also know what signs to watch out for if it does become cancerous.