Warts, Moles and Skin Tags
Warts Moles and Skin Tags are extremely common. Although they all affect the skin there are fundamental differences between them.
What are Warts?
Warts can appear at any time and most people will have at least one during their lifetime. A wart is actually a viral infection that attacks the top layer of skin (the epidermis). The virus is spread from person to person by contact. This can be direct ‘skin to skin’ contact or by simply touching objects (such as door handles or computer keyboards for example) that have been used by someone who already has the infection.
There are over one hundred strains of the virus and different strains of the virus (human papillomavirus – or HPV for short). The type of virus you come into contact with will determine where the warts will appear. The virus will often enter the body via small cuts or scratches.
Warts are not considered serious and the majority of warts will eventually disappear of their own accord. Most people do however seek some form of wart removal treatment both to prevent them being spread and also for cosmetic reasons.
What are Moles?
Moles are generally benign and are usually of no consequence from a medical point of view. As a result removing a mole is usually a decision base on choice rather than necessity. Moles can either be present at birth or can develop at any stage during your life. Moles can appear practically anywhere on the body. Sometimes a mole that you have had since childhood may disappear when you get older. Unlike warts they are not viral neither are they contagious.
Moles usually appear as dark brown spots. They can however, less commonly, be red, blue tan, red or even black. Moles are referred to medically as ‘nevi’. Moles are more often than not completely harmless but can, in rare cases, can become cancerous.
Moles can be oval or round in shape and vary dramatically in size. A mole can be as small as a pin head or can cover a very large area. The average size of a mole is around about 6mm in diameter maximum.
The appearance of moles can vary. They can be flat or raised and can be wrinkled or smooth in texture. The appearance and colour of a mole can change over a period of time.
Moles are a result of cells in the skin (melanocytes) growing in either clumps or clusters surrounded by tissue.
Although the vast majority of moles pose no medical threat they can occasionally become cancerous. Moles that you have had from birth (congenital nevi) can increase the risk of you developing a malignant melanoma (a type of skin cancer)
You may also be at increased risk of developing malignant melanoma if you have a mole (or moles) that are described as being ‘atypical’.
An ‘atypical mole’ (dysplastic nevi) is a mole that is larger than about 6mm and is irregular in shape. These types of mole are commonly hereditary. An atypical mole will often have a dark centre surrounded by lighter pigmentation.
Having a large number of moles on your body can also increase the risk of you developing melanoma.
If you have a mole and it has changed in appearance and you are worried about it see your doctor. Your doctor will then perform a full skin examination and if he feels it is appropriate will request a biopsy for microscopic examination.
Moles that are found to be cancerous can usually be removed by a relatively straightforward surgical procedure.
In reality the majority of warts that are removed are done so purely for cosmetic reasons rather than medical necessity.
What are Skin Tags?
Skin tags (or acrochordons) are extremely common and generally completely harmless. They are growths that hang off the skin and are usually brown or flesh coloured. They can sometimes resemble warts in appearance. The most common places for skin tags to appear are on the neck, around the breasts, around the groin and under the armpits. Small skin tags are also not uncommon on the eyelids.
Skin tags are most common in older people but can affect people of any age. There is often no apparent reason for a skin tag appearing. They do however have a tendency to grow in areas where skin rubs against skin or where the skin rubs constantly against clothing.
Overweight (obese) people with excessive folds of skin are at particular risk of suffering from skin tags.
There is not usually any medical grounds for having skin tags removed. They are harmless and painless. Depending on the size and location of the skin tag they can on occasion catch against clothing or jewellery which may cause them to bleed.
Most people consider skin tags to be unsightly and decide to have them removed purely for cosmetic reasons. If you choose to have them removed surgically the procedure is fairly straight forward and not unlike the procedures used for removing warts (burning or freezing).
Be aware that if you attempt to cut the skin tag off yourself you can cause them to bleed extremely heavily.