Skin lumps are quite common and often are harmless growths that are best left alone. Occasionally, however, a lump can be a sign of a medical problem and should be examined by your regular doctor or a dermatologist. This is especially true of lumps that produce other symptoms, such as pain or bleeding.
A mole or other skin lump that changes in shape or size, bleeds, or is painful may be cancerous. See your doctor as soon as possible.
Causes of skin lumps
Birthmarks are often raised, creating a discolored skin lump. If they are disfiguring, they can be covered with cosmetic preparations or, in some cases, removed with a laser or other surgical procedure. Never attempt to remove one yourself.
A lump or mass just under the skin is a symptom of certain kinds of cancer. For example, breast cancer often appears as a lump, which may be under the skin or deeper inside the breast tissue. Any such lump should be evaluated immediately by your doctor, and all women should have regular breast examinations.
Cancer of the skin may also manifest itself as a lump. The most serious type of skin cancer, called melanoma, is a dark mole that may appear suddenly or begin in or near another mole or dark spot on the skin. A lump in the testicle may indicate testicular cancer, which most often occurs in young men between ages 15 and 34.
Corns and calluses
Corns are among the most common skin growths. They are caused by pressure, usually on the feet. Generally they are the result of wearing overly
tight shoes, though they occasionally appear in places other than the feet. Calluses, which are normally found on the hands, result from a person's occupation. They also are common on the soles of the feet.
A ganglion is a cyst that is connected to a joint or tendon. It appears most commonly as a painless bump on the wrist. In the past, these were often called "Bible bumps" because they could be removed by hitting the wrist with a heavy book such as a family Bible. This would break the cyst, causing the fluid to flow out and the bump to disappear.
A number of infections can cause skin lumps. Furuncles or boils are among the most serious. A single boil usually will resolve itself, but a collection of boils in the same place — a carbuncle — can cause blood poisoning.
Keloids are overgrowths of tissue that occur after injury or surgery, appearing in the resulting scars. They are shiny, smooth, slightly pink and often dome-shaped. They are more frequent among black people.
Actinic keratoses are usually red, scaly spots that represent precancerous changes due to overexposure to the sun. Seborrheic keratoses, benign brown or black raised spots or wart-like growths, occur on sun-exposed as well as on covered areas of the skin. They are common in older people, and they tend to run in families.
Moles are related to birthmarks. They vary in color from very pale to dark brown or black. Some are flat; others are raised and hairy. Moles can appear anywhere on the body, and are best left alone. However, if they are disfiguring or in a place where
they are constantly irritated, surgical removal may be advised.
Warts are caused by a viral infection of the cells in the outermost layer of skin, resulting in small bumps. There are several varieties, including the harmless types that grow on the hands and feet, as well as the more serious genital warts that are sexually transmitted and linked to an increased risk of cancer. In children, warts generally disappear on their own with no treatment. Genital warts should be treated to reduce the risk of cancer and transmission to others.
Advice about skin lumps
- You should carefully examine your skin periodically, paying particular attention to any moles or other growths that may become cancerous.
- The discomfort of corns can be relieved temporarily by soaking the feet in warm water, but corn removal should be done by a physician or podiatrist. Using commercial corn removers or cutting them yourself can be very dangerous, especially if you are diabetic or have poor circulation.
- Avoiding excessive exposure to the sun and using a sunscreen when outdoors is crucial in preventing skin cancer. This is particularly important for fair-skinned people, who are more susceptible.
- Wart remedies that do not require a prescription are readily available. However, other skin growths can be mistaken for warts, and some of these can be serious. If in doubt, seek medical advice.
- A boil that is spreading may be developing into a carbuncle. See your doctor as soon as possible.