Seborrhoeic keratoses

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What is seborrhoeic keratoses?

Seborrhoeic keratoses (also known as seborrhoeic warts or basal cell papillomas) are raised warty non-cancerous growths of the surface layers of the skin that develop as we get older. They vary in colour and are usually light to dark brown. They look as though they have been “stuck on” the top of the skin.

The most common sites to develop seborrhoeic keratoses are the areas where we get the most sun exposure over our lifetime such as the face, scalp, chest and back. Whilst some patients develop a single seborrhoeic keratosis it is very common for patients to develop multiple seborrhoeic keratoses.

seborrhoeic keratoses

What causes
seborrhoeic keratoses?

They develop with advancing age and are more numerous in people who have had a lot of sun-exposure. Around 75% of the people aged over 70 years will have one or more seborrhoeic keratoses. Some families have a genetic tendency to develop multiple seborrhoeic keratoses.

Risks of seborrhoeic keratoses?

Seborrhoeic keratoses are harmless and do not develop into skin cancers. However, they can itch and become symptomatic following minor trauma. They can also cause embarrassment if situated at prominent sites such as the face or neck. Multiple lesions may catch on clothing and itch. They may occasionally bleed. Any significant changes should be reviewed by your GP.


Treatments for seborrhoeic keratoses?

As they are harmless they do not require any treatment. Any itching or irritation can frequently be relieved by simple moisturisers such as E45 cream® or Vaseline Intensive Care lotion®. NHS services do not currently treat seborrhoeic keratoses.

How are seborrhoeic keratoses removed?

We do not normally remove these lesions in the NHS unless they are irritated or very inflamed or there is diagnostic doubt.

Two methods commonly are commonly used if removal is required:

(Freezing with Liquid Nitrogen)

Cryotherapy works by destroying the abnormal surface skin cells that make up the seborrhoeic keratosis. The treatment is slightly painful and the treated lesion may be sore for 2-3 days before healing in 14-21 days. Side-effects include blistering, crusting and occasionally a white scar.

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Curettage & Cautery

Some thicker seborrhoeic keratoses are best removed by scraping them off the skin (curettage) and heating of bleeding skin vessels (cautery). A local anaesthetic injection is required prior to the procedure. Wounds heal like grazes typically within 10-21 days. It may take longer for the wound to heal in some locations such as the lower leg.

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