Spotting unattractive nodules, lipomas and cysts on your skin can be worrying. But before googling yourself into madness, and researching what these could be due to, rest assured that most lumps and bumps are often benign in nature. However there are certain growths that must be checked out immediately. Some are caused by injuries and infection and are easily treated. Others may be more serious nature
Benign vs. malignant
Lumps are usually referred to as tumors, and they may be benign or malignant. In a tumor, one particular type of cell (such as a glandular, fat or muscle cell) grows and multiplies abnormally.
The most important characteristic is whether these tumor cells can invade other adjacent cell types, and spread around the body (which would make them malignant tumors) or not (in which case they are benign).
Depending on the location of your lump you can narrow down the diagnosis:
You have got... A lump in your groin or armpit.
You are scared it is... A tumor.
It is probably... A skin tag, or an ingrown hair.
Facts: Skin tags are very common. They are harmless pieces of skin that often grow in the creases of your body — such as your groin, neck, armpits, bra line, and thighs. Ingrown hair are hairs that have grown inwards after shaving or hair removal.
Treatment: Your doctor can easily cut, freeze, or remove large skin tags. Ingrowing hairs can be permanently treated by laser hair removal.
When to investigate: If a bump slowly and steadily gets bigger, is hard or rubbery, or bleeds, see your doctor. If you have a painless swelling in your groin, armpit or neck that lasts for more than six weeks, also see your doctor. It may just be your lymph nodes fighting off a virus, but it is better to check.
You have got... A lump on your leg.
You are scared it is... Skin cancer.
It is probably... A dermatofibroma or lipoma.
Facts: A dermatofibroma is a hard, non-malignant lump found on the lower leg. It is very common and the tissue is usually skin color. If your lump is softer and is on your leg, arm, belly, back or neck it is more likely to be a lipoma, or a collection of fat. Lipomas are caused when fat cells multiply faster than normal.
Treatment: Dermatofibromas are usually left alone, unless the diagnosis is in doubt, as they are not dangerous and look less obvious over time. Removing them causes a scar. Lipomas do not need to be removed unless they grow large or unsightly. They are not dangerous either.
When to investigate: Any lump that appears without reason, and any crusty lesions or irregular scaly patches of skin need to be checked by your doctor. A kind of cancer called a squamous cell carcinoma often occurs on legs, arms, shoulders, face, lips or ears.
You have got... A lump on your neck.
You are scared it is... Cancer.
It is probably... A sebaceous cyst.
Facts: Your 20s and 30s are the peak time to get them. When a fat gland gets blocked and the fat builds up, it causes a painless lump. These are very common and may be complicated by an infection.
Treatment: Your doctor can remove it under local anesthetic when the bump is unsightly or prone to infection. It will leave a scar that is bigger than the original lump.
When to investigate: Sebaceous cysts do not become cancerous. If you have a small red or pink pearly lump that in time starts to bleed or become crusty, see your doctor to rule out basal or squamous cell carcinoma.
You have got... A large mole.
You are scared it is... Melanoma.
It is probably... Harmless, most moles remain benign for life.
Facts: Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that is most dangerous. Melanomas look like dark spots on the skin. They continue to grow and can even appear on parts of your body that aren’t exposed to the sun.
Treatment: Ask a dermatologist to have a look at a suspicious mole. Rest assured, most turn out to be harmless, and if your doctor is in doubt, he will remove it and send it for analysis.
When to investigate: There are six important signs (A, B, C, D, E) that can help you figure out if you should ask your doctor about a spot that you think might be a melanoma:
A – Asymmetry: A spot that is not the same on both sides is asymmetrical
B – Borders: When the outline of your spot is wavy, rigid or uneven — you should ask.
C – Color: If your spot is a different color or changes color overtime, make a note and have your doctor take a look.
D – Diameter: Melanomas are usually larger than the diameter of the eraser on your pencil (5 mm)
E – Elevation or Evolution: If the spot that you are worried about is raised above your skin (a bump) or if you notice it changing over time (evolving), it might be more than just a dot.
You have got... A soft lump on your wrist.
You are scared it is... Going to burst.
It is probably... A ganglion
Facts: Ganglions are soft, usually painless cysts. They are very common and are caused by a small weakness in the tough outer layer of your joints, which allows joint fluid to come out and form a bubble. Ganglions usually occur in overused joints such as wrists and fingers.
Treatment: Unless it is affecting movement or causing pain, leave it alone. Most ganglions will get softer and flatter as time goes on, and may spontaneously disappear, or burst accidentally. The more permanent solution is surgery.
When to investigate: Ganglions will not become malignant.
You have got... A lump in your breast.
You are scared it is... Breast cancer.
It is probably... A fibroadenoma or a benign cyst.
Facts: In young, fit and healthy women, 80 percent of lumps are benign. A fibroadenoma is a small harmless lump made from glandular tissue, which feels quite firm and moves around. Cysts, on the other hand, feel more jelly-like and tender and often affect women in their 30s and 40s.
Treatment: If a fibroadenoma isn’t bothering you, your doctor may advise you to leave it. If it’s painful, or the diagnosis is in doubt, your GP might suggest a minor operation to remove it. Cysts are usually confirmed by ultrasound if you are under 35, or a mammogram if you are older. A specialist can drain the fluid if it becomes uncomfortable.
When to investigate: Although breast cancer is generally pain-free and slower growing than a cyst or fibroadenoma, always get lumps checked. If you notice an unusual change in the size, shape or feel of your breasts, or you have some puckering, dimpling or redness of the skin, or nipple discharge, see your doctor.
Other lumps and bumps on your body
• Haemangioma: A small collection of blood vessels that look like bright red or slightly purplish bumps. These little bumps stay the same in size and, even though they are blood vessels, they should not bleed. Angiomas are harmless and do not require treatment
• Warts: Small, skin-colored bumps that usually exist in clumps. Sometimes you will have a few clustered together. Some warts stay the same, some will eventually go away on their own and others will grow or more will appear around them. Warts are caused by the Human Papillomavirus (or HPV), which is contagious and spreads through contact. HPV can cause warts on various parts of your body from your feet to your genitals to your face.
Genital warts, though, are especially important to pay attention to because they have been linked to cervical cancer in women. So, if you notice warts in that area, check with your doctor.
In general, if you have a bump or lump, it is a good idea to keep track of it. If it changes in size, shape, color or any other noticeable way, it is an excellent idea to ask your doctor.
— Dr. Sami Suhail Sawan is a Cosmetic and Surgical Dermatology Consultant, at the International Medical Center. French Board of Dermatology and a member of The International Society for Dermatological Surgery.
Email: [email protected]