Should You Get a Skin Tag Biopsy?

Skin tags are typically benign skin growths that can appear on almost any part of the body. Everybody develops skin tags at least once in their life. Some people, however, are more prone to skin tags than others. More often than not, skin tags are benign, i.e. they are not cancerous; but if you have one or especially if skin tags appear on your body frequently, you should consider getting a skin tag biopsy. 

Because they are mostly harmless, it is okay to ignore skin tags. Some people may choose to still have them removed, especially when they appear in a conspicuous location, such as the face. Others are not bothered to have them at all. 

For those who want to get treatment, even for benign skin growths, they can choose from a number of safe skin tag removal options. Solutions to get rid of skin tags vary from natural, do-it-yourself remedies to medical treatments, which may involve surgical procedures. 

Of course, it is always safe to consult a doctor first. In order to determine if a skin tag is benign or cancerous, a dermatologist may have to perform a biopsy in addition to the standard physical evaluation of the skin growth. Depending on where the skin tag is located and on whether or not it is benign, safe skin tag removal may require surgical removal by a dermatologist. 

When Is a Skin Tag Biopsy Necessary? What Is Involved?

Skin tags are harmless, just benign skin growths. They can happen to anyone and can appear on most parts of the body. The chances are that you will experience at least one skin tag in your lifetime. Others are prone to getting them quite often. While they are benign and not cancerous, it’s important to know when a skin tag biopsy ‘may’ be necessary and what the procedure involves.

Like any other skin growth, most people ignore them. For the most part, that’s perfectly okay. Because they are almost always harmless, when identified correctly, many people choose not to ‘treat’ them. That often applies if they appear in an inconspicuous location.

There are several safe skin tag removal options. Medical treatments, surgical procedures, and natural remedies are all available for getting rid of skin tags. If you decide to get a skin tag removed, or do it yourself at home, there’s no shortage of excellent solutions.

But, in rare cases, you may find that a skin tag must be removed by a doctor, due to the position or to have a biopsy performed. There are several signs you should look for to ascertain if a skin tag should be checked by a dermatologist.

Is It a Skin Tag?

First, here’s how you can correctly identify a skin tag:

  • It appears as a small flap of skin that protrudes like a branch. 
  • There is a narrow “stalk” or peduncle that attaches it to your skin. 
  • It is typically between 2 mm and 4 mm in size. Some skin tags grow bigger over time. 
  • A skin tag is usually soft, although it can harden when it becomes irritated or is frequently rubbed against clothing or some other body part. 
  • Skin tags often appear on the neck, under the arms, and eyelids. But they can also be found on almost any part of the body. 

Science has yet to determine the exact cause of skin tags. A commonly accepted theory, however, is that skin tags are formed by constant friction, such as when skin rubs against skin, clothing, or jewelry. A family history of skin tags and hormonal changes due to pregnancy also increase the likelihood of developing skin tags. 

You might easily confuse any of the following as skin tags:

  • Moles
  • Warts
  • Seborrheic Keratoses
  • Fatty Moles (Nevus)

When is a Skin Tag Biopsy Necessary?

You should schedule a visit to your doctor if you notice any of these signs:

  • Discoloration or darkening of your skin tag. 
  • When a skin tag becomes red or inflamed; if it leaks fluid; or if it is painful when touched. 
  • Sudden increase in size. 
  • Bleeding. 

Any of the above signs may prompt your doctor to do a biopsy, which will involve taking a tissue sample from your skin tag or removing the skin tag altogether and having a laboratory test it to determine if it is precancer or cancer. Skin tags are rarely precancerous or cancerous, but ruling out the possibility through a biopsy is always a good precaution to take. 

The abovementioned symptoms may also occur if you frequently touch, twist, or pinch your skin tags. In fact, a skin tag may turn black if it is deprived of oxygen as a result of twisting. Your doctor may also recommend safe skin tag removal if the growth has become irritated or infected to avoid worsening of the condition. 

If you have a large skin tag, you should likewise consult a doctor and consider removal as the larger-than-normal size also increases the likelihood of irritation and infection due to constant friction. 

What Happens During a Biopsy?

  • Your doctor will numb the area surrounding the skin tag using a local anaesthetic. 
  • Your doctor will cut the skin growth using a scalpel or razor. He may also simply get a tissue sample, called an excision, by cutting into the top layer of fat beneath the skin; stitches are often necessary afterward. 
  • The skin tag/tissue sample will be sent to a pathologist for microscopic evaluation. 
  • The pathologist will report their findings after several days. Harmless skin tag/s or tissue samples are then safely discarded in a special waste container. 
  • If a problem is detected, your doctor will discuss with you the most appropriate treatment plan for safe skin tag removal

What Happens Next?

Knowing that your skin tag is 100% benign with the help of a biopsy will definitely help you sleep more soundly at night. 

But to be on the safe side, your doctor might ask you to come in for additional check-ups to monitor other skin tags you already have or which might appear later. Your doctor will look for the same “abnormal” symptoms you observed with the biopsied skin tag. A negative biopsy, however, usually means you are free and clear. 

There’s no reason to worry should you develop new skin tags if you already received a clean bill of health with a negative biopsy. You should leave other skin tags alone, unless they become bothersome, in which case you can opt to have them removed by your doctor. Otherwise, avoid picking at or pulling off a skin tag as this can lead to bleeding and irritation and to the possibility of getting an infection.

In the unfortunate and rare instance of a health problem, you should work with your doctor to figure out the steps you need to take. Again, a cancerous skin tag is a rare occurrence, but whatever medical issue is discovered from your biopsy, you should seek proper medical treatment right away. 

Skin tag removal on neck.

A Biopsy is a Necessary Precaution

Skin tags may appear in places where they may go unnoticed indefinitely. This means you will not be able to observe any of the signs that will warrant a visit to your doctor, and if there is cause for concern, you might find out too late. As with any medical problem, the earlier it is detected, the easier it is to correct. 

Especially if you are prone to getting skin tags, you should perform self-checks at least once a month. Look for new skin growths where they typically appear – the neck, under the arms, and the eyelids. If you notice a new skin tag and especially if you get frequent direct sun exposure, keep a close eye on it and take note of any noticeable physical changes. It would be a good idea to write down your observations so you (and your doctor) can better monitor these changes. A gradual growth in size over time is normal; any other changes, particularly if they occur quickly, should be cause for concern. 

This may seem like too much effort, but identifying a possible problem early will let you know when you need to see a dermatologist. Learn as much as you can about the signs you should watch out for. If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above or any other abnormalities, if a skin tag has become bothersome, or if you’re unsure about what skin condition you may have, better get a professional medical opinion to set your mind at ease and receive proper medical treatment, if necessary. 

For benign skin tags, safe treatment options include freezing, laser removal, and cauterization. Remember that skin tags do not usually indicate a medical problem; but you should still monitor all skin tags that appear on your body to help prevent future problems.