Skin tags are common and depending on their location are prone to irritation including bleeding.
Can an irritated skin tag, however, actually transform into cancer such as melanoma?
“Skin tags are extremely common and are overall benign,” says Erum Ilyas, MD, a board certified dermatologist who performs adult and pediatric medical dermatology, cosmetic dermatology and skin cancer treatment with Schweiger Dermatology Group.
“However, it is true that dermatologists do vary on whether they submit these for evaluation by a pathologist when removed because they are overwhelmingly benign by their very nature,” continues Dr. Ilyas.
“After all, skin tags are actually ‘outpouchings’ of skin that develop at points of friction or rubbing.”
Common locations due to friction or rubbing is the skin of the anus, the skin near the anus, any area that regularly comes in contact with a bra strap or the underwire of a bra, the underarms and the neck.
“By the nature of the cells that create them, they are not inherently precancerous lesions,” assures Dr. Ilyas.
Skin Tags Should Be Biopsied to Screen for Cancer
Dr. Ilyas continues, “That being said, I’m one of the dermatologists who does submit these for pathology exam. Why?
“Because I have had at least half a dozen cases where two melanomas, one basal cell carcinoma and three squamous cell carcinomas were found in these tiny little irritating skin tags that had no suspicious clinical features other than being ‘irritated.’
“The best way to look at this is that an irritated skin tag does not necessarily turn into cancer.
“However, there are rare times when a cancer can present as an irritated skin tag.”
In other words, it’s not impossible for any of the three most common skin cancers (melanoma, BCC and SCC) to masquerade as a skin tag.
The “tag” in these cases appears non-worrisome to the naked eye, lacking the classic features of a melanoma, BCC or SCC, such as tiny satellite moles nearby, dark color, hardness or oozing.
Another point to consider is that a cancer can be hiding within a skin tag – by sheer coincidence.
The skin tag in such a case would not have caused the cancer. It’s just that the malignancy ended up in the same spot as a harmless skin tag.
This is why anything benign that’s removed from your skin should be biopsied to make sure that there is no hidden cancerous tumor (which can be fractions of a millimeter, invisible to the naked eye but detectable under a microscope).
In short, if you’re going to have a lesion removed, be it due to irritation or cosmetic purposes, it may as well be biopsied.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.