Non-melanoma skin cancer

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Non-cancerous tumours of the skin

A non-cancerous (benign) tumour of the skin is a growth or abnormal area on the skin that does not spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Non-cancerous tumours are not usually life-threatening. They usually don’t need any treatment but may be removed with surgery in some cases.

There are many types of non-cancerous tumours of the skin, including the following.


A dermatofibroma is a small, hard lump that varies in colour from pink or red to brown. It may be itchy or tender. Dermatofibromas are commonly found on the arms and legs, especially the lower leg. They often happen because of some minor injury to the skin like an insect bite. They are common and happen more often in women than in men. They don’t need to be removed unless they cause symptoms. If they do cause symptoms, doctors may remove dermatofibromas using surgical excision or cryosurgery.


A hemangioma is a red or purple lump on the skin caused by an abnormal buildup of blood vessels. Many small hemangiomas go away on their own. If they are large or causing problems, they may be treated with laser surgery or drugs, such as steroids or beta blockers, given as a pill or by injection (with a needle).

Keratinous and pilar cysts

Keratinous and pilar cysts are lumps under the skin caused by a buildup of substances from the skin, including protein (keratin). They are the most common types of skin cysts and can be found anywhere on the body. The cyst may be removed by surgical excision or treated by draining it through a cut (incision).


A lipoma is a growth that starts in fat cells. Lipomas can form anywhere in the body where there are fat cells, but they are commonly found underneath the skin in the subcutaneous tissue. They are soft, rubbery growths. Doctors usually don’t remove them unless they are large and cause symptoms like pain. Then they may be removed by surgical excision.


A mole (melanocytic nevus) is a bump or spot on the skin that is usually brown or pink and has a smooth and regular border. Moles are made up of a group of melanocytes (cells that give skin, hair and eyes their colour). Most people have a few moles. They may be raised or flat and can be found anywhere on the body. If there are any abnormal features of the mole, such as an uneven border, unusual colours or bleeding, it may mean it is melanoma skin cancer. A biopsy may be done to check for cancer.

Seborrheic keratosis

Seborrheic keratosis is a pink, red, tan, dark brown or black raised growth with a waxy or greasy appearance. Seborrheic keratoses tend to look like warts and can be different sizes. They can be found anywhere on the skin, but often on the face, shoulders, chest and back. They are most common in middle-aged and older adults. Seborrheic keratosis may be treated with curettage or cryosurgery.

Skin tag

A skin tag is a small, soft growth that is usually the same colour as your skin. Skin tags are very common and often occur in middle-aged and older adults. They are often found on the neck, armpits or groin. They don’t need to be removed unless they become irritated, painful or bleed. Doctors may remove skin tags with electrosurgery, a shave biopsy, a surgical excision or cryosurgery.


A wart is a small round or oval growth on the skin. Warts can occur anywhere on the skin, including the hands, bottom of the feet, anus and genital area. They are caused by types of human papillomavirus (HPV). Many warts go away on their own. If they don’t go away, warts may be treated with special medicines put on the skin, cryosurgery or electrosurgery. Anal and genital warts are often treated differently than other types of warts.


A surgical procedure to remove tissue or an organ.

During a wide local excision, a tumour is removed along with a wide area of tissue around it.


A procedure that uses extreme cold (liquid nitrogen or liquid carbon dioxide) to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue.

Also called cryoablation, cryosurgical ablation or cryotherapy.

laser surgery

A surgical technique that uses a laser (an intense beam of light) to make bloodless cuts in tissue.

Laser surgery may be used to remove abnormal tissue on the surface of an organ or the skin, remove blockages or stop bleeding.


A sac in the body that is usually filled with fluid or semi-solid material.


The removal of cells or tissues for examination under a microscope.

Different types of biopsies include incisional biopsy, excisional biopsy and needle biopsy. Sometimes imaging techniques are used to guide the biopsy, as in ultrasound-guided biopsy and computed tomography (CT)–guided biopsy.


A procedure that uses a curette (a spoon-shaped instrument with a sharp edge) to remove cells, tissues or growths from the wall of a body cavity or other surfaces.


A procedure that uses a strong electric current to cut through tissue, to destroy abnormal cells or tissues (such as cancer cells) or to seal off blood vessels to stop bleeding.

Electrosurgery is divided into 3 groups based on what it does. For cutting, the electricity heats the tissue to cut through it. Cutting can be used to remove a tumour. For fulguration, the electricity is given as pulses or sparks to heat and destroy tissue. Fulguration can be used to destroy cancer cells over a wide area. For dessication, the electricity heats and dries out the tissue so it forms a mass. Dessication can be used to seal off blood vessels during surgery.


A surgical procedure to remove tissue or an organ.

During a wide local excision, a tumour is removed along with a wide area of tissue around it.


Dr Shana Kelley An ultrasensitive blood test for cancer

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