How Can You Tell the Difference Between Melanoma and Seborrheic Keratosis?

Reviewed on 3/10/2021

What are melanoma and seborrheic keratosis? 

Seborrheic keratosis is a skin condition causing growths on your skin as you age, whereas melanoma is the least commonly diagnosed type of skin cancer.
Seborrheic keratosis is a skin condition causing growths on your skin as you age, whereas melanoma is the least commonly diagnosed type of skin cancer.

Seborrheic keratosis is a skin condition causing growths on your skin as you age. While some people do get these growths as early as their teenage years, they are more common in the elderly. They are benign, so while they can look bothersome, they don’t cause harm. 

Melanoma is the least commonly diagnosed type of skin cancer. Melanoma happens when pigment cells in the skin mutate and grow rapidly. Melanoma often begins because of frequent sun exposure and tanning beds. The rapid growth of cells causes a blemish or mark on the surface of your skin.

What are the symptoms and signs of melanoma and seborrheic keratosis?

Seborrheic keratosis 

This skin condition can appear anywhere on the body but it is especially common on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun. These growths may be:

  • Slightly raised
  • Lighter or darker than your regular skin tone
  • Waxy or shiny
  • Scaly and rough like a wart
  • Well-defined, standing out from other skin
  • Itchy 

Melanoma

In the early stages of development, melanoma doesn’t have any symptoms. As they grow, change and cause discoloration on your skin, melanomas may break open, causing lesions. These lesions may: 

  • Itch and burn
  • Become unusually soft or hard compared to surrounding skin
  • Form a scab and bleed
  • Become inflamed and slightly swollen

Melanoma has three different subcategories:

  • Acral Lentiginous – these growths occur on skin without hair follicles that isn’t normally exposed to the sun 
  • Juvenile Melanoma – these noncancerous growths begin before or during puberty and often appear scaly and pink
  • Malignant Lentigo – this growth is precancerous and resembles a freckle. It may be brown or black with an unsymmetrical shape and usually develops on your face

 

What are the causes of melanoma and seborrheic keratosis?

Melanoma

Prolonged exposure to sun and tanning beds increases your risk for developing melanoma, but the exact cause is unknown. A defective gene called CDK4 may be associated with an increased risk for melanoma, but there is no definite proof. Genetics may also be a factor since melanoma can run in families.

Seborrheic keratosis

Similar to melanoma, seborrheic keratosis is linked to genetics since the disorder can run in families. They are also increasingly common with age, but the exact cause is not known.

What are the stages of melanoma and seborrheic keratosis? 

Both melanoma and seborrheic keratosis start under your skin as cells morph and change, eventually surfacing on the skin with a different color and texture. These growths begin small and grow larger with time. 

If they grow too rapidly, it’s a sign that they may be cancerous. If you notice these growths, call your doctor for a consultation.


 

How do you diagnose melanoma and seborrheic keratosis?

Your doctor can examine your skin for signs that the growths are cancerous or precancerous. The only way to have a firm diagnosis for melanoma or seborrheic keratosis is to complete a biopsy. Some signs of cancer include:

  • Smooth instead of raised and well-defined
  • Blurred borders
  • Asymmetrical shape
  • Dilated blood vessels
  • Open sore
  • New growth occurring over a preexisting mole

Treatments for melanoma and seborrheic keratosis

While melanoma treatment is necessary to prevent further damage to your body, seborrheic keratosis treatment is considered cosmetic. Approximately 90% of seborrheic keratosis growths are frozen off using an acid, like liquid nitrogen

Treatment for melanoma depends on the level, stage, and location of the skin cancer when your doctor makes a diagnosis. For growths that are caught early, your doctor will conduct surgery. The incision will extend 5 centimeters on all sides of the lesion to ensure none of the growth is missed. In some locations, such as the face, smaller margins must be accepted. 

Later stages may require the removal of more skin. In addition, your doctor may suggest radiation or chemotherapy to kill all cancer cells and prevent future growth.

Remember, all treatments pose the risk for negative side effects. Talk to your doctor about any medications you’re taking or other treatments you are receiving. Together, you can create a treatment plan that makes sense based on your symptoms and severity of your skin growths. 

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References
SOURCES:

Cedars Sinai: "Seborrheic keratosis."

Harvard Medical School: "Ask the doctor: Seborrheic keratosis."

University of Michigan Health: "Seborrheic keratoses."

Stanford Health Care: "Melanoma."

National Association for Rare Disorders: "Malignant melanoma."

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