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Overview of Skin Growths

By Denise M. Aaron, MD, Assistant Professor of Surgery; Staff Physician, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center; Veterans Administration Medical Center, White River Junction

Cells of the skin and underlying tissue may accumulate and cause growths. Growths may be raised or flat and range in color from dark brown or black to skin-colored to red. They may be present at birth or develop later.

When the growth is controlled and the cells do not spread to other parts of the body, the skin growth (tumor) is noncancerous (benign). When the growth is uncontrolled, the tumor is cancerous (malignant), and the cells invade normal tissue and may even spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

Most skin growths are noncancerous. However, people should see a doctor to determine whether a growth is skin cancer. Noncancerous skin growths are often more of a cosmetic problem than anything else.


Doctors do not know what causes most noncancerous skin growths. Some growths, however, are known to be caused by


  • Examination of the skin

  • Sometimes biopsy

Doctors are often able to recognize skin growths by examining the skin.

Some growths are removed and examined under a microscope. This procedure is called a biopsy. Other tests may be done depending on the growth.


  • Treatment depends on type of growth

Some skin growths are not treated and go away on their own.

Noncancerous skin growths that are bothersome and that do not go away on their own may be removed. Some growths are removed with an electric needle or scalpel. Other growths are removed with lasers or by freezing them with liquid nitrogen.