Don’t Ignore That Bump: Is it Cancer or Keratosis?

Seborrheic keratosis is a type of noncancerous skin growth that can appear on the skin’s surface as people age. These growths often resemble melanoma, a type of skin cancer that is more deadly than any other form of skin cancer.

This article will discuss the differences between seborrheic keratosis and skin cancer, as well as their symptoms and causes.

Seborrheic keratosis vs. Melanoma: Differences

Seborrheic keratosis and melanoma can appear similar in appearance. However, despite their visual similarity, seborrheic keratosis is not a risk factor for skin cancer or a form of precancer.

Seborrheic keratosis is a harmless skin growth that often appears as the skin ages, while melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can appear as a new mole or a change in an existing mole.

Symptoms of Seborrheic Keratosis

Cancer vs. Keratosis: Understanding the Difference
seborrheic keratosis

Seborrheic keratosis are harmless skin growths that can range in color from black to white. They often appear patchy and can occur anywhere on the body. The growths may look waxy, and people might initially mistake them for unusual-looking scabs.

Seborrheic keratosis does not typically cause symptoms, but some people dislike the way they look. Occasionally, they become inflamed or irritated, causing pain and itching. An injury to a seborrheic keratosis can cause an infection.

Symptoms of Melanoma

Cancer vs. Keratosis: Understanding the Difference

Melanoma is typically asymmetrical, larger than 6 millimeters (mm), and more than one color. However, size is not a definitive sign of melanoma. Noncancerous moles may be larger than this, while cancerous moles can be smaller.

About 5% of all new cancer cases in the U.S. are melanoma, a form of skin cancer. It kills more people than any other form of skin cancer and can spread to other body areas.

However, with prompt treatment, more than 91% of people with melanoma will survive 5 years or more after their first diagnosis.


It can be difficult to differentiate between melanoma and seborrheic keratosis, but a physical examination by a dermatologist or certified electrologist may help identify the distinction.

Sometimes, melanoma can resemble seborrheic keratosis in certain individuals. Those with a previous history of seborrheic keratosis may not recognize early-stage melanoma if they are used to unusual skin growths.

Nonetheless, in certain situations, a biopsy of the growth may be required to examine for cancer under a microscope.

Causes of Seborrheic Keratosis

Doctors do not know what causes seborrheic keratosis or whether it is possible to reduce the risk of developing these skin growths. The growths are not contagious and do not spread from contact with others. Some people notice that the growths tend to spread on their skin over time.

The primary risk factor for seborrheic keratoses is age. Other risk factors include:

  • skin irritation and friction
  • Eczema
  • Sunburn
  • genetic mutations
  • a family history of seborrheic keratosis
  • some medications, such as epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors.

Causes of Melanoma

Over time, ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds can change the way the skin behaves. This can lead to cancer, including melanoma.

While sun exposure is one of the most significant risk factors, other factors also play a role.

Other risk factors for melanoma include having:


A doctor may be able to distinguish melanoma from seborrheic keratosis with a visual examination. When a doctor is uncertain of the diagnosis or if a person has a range of risk factors for melanoma, it may be necessary to take a biopsy of the growth.

Seborrheic keratosis are typically:

  • flat
  • waxy
  • painless

Melanoma tends to change and grow over time, so anyone who has a growth that looks like seborrheic keratosis but changes in shape or color should contact a doctor.

People should watch for the following signs:

  • Asymmetry: A mole or growth that looks different on one side is a potential sign of melanoma.
  • Border: Melanoma moles tend to have irregular borders or borders with jagged edges.
  • Colour: Melanoma often causes moles with an uneven or unusual color.
  • Diameter: Moles that change in size and those larger than 6 mm are more likely to be a melanoma.
  • Evolving: Melanoma growths may change shape, size, and color over time.


Seborrheic keratosis does not require treatment in most cases. If a person wants to remove them for cosmetic reasons or because the growths are causing discomfort, an electrologist can use one of several methods to remove them.

The most common methods are:

  • cryotherapy, which involves freezing the growths off
  • curettage, which involves scraping the growths off
  • electrosurgery, which involves burning the growths off with an electric current
  • laser surgery, which involves using a laser to destroy the growths

These treatments are generally simple, and an electrologist can usually perform them in their office.

Melanoma requires prompt medical attention, and the treatment options depend on the stage and type of the cancer.

Early-stage melanomas may only require surgery to remove the growth and a small amount of surrounding tissue.

In more advanced cases, doctors may recommend other treatments, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or radiation therapy.


There is no guaranteed way to prevent seborrheic keratosis or melanoma, but several measures can help reduce the risk of developing these conditions.

To prevent seborrheic keratosis, people can:

  • protect their skin from the sun
  • avoid irritating or injuring the skin
  • wear comfortable clothing to avoid rubbing and chafing

To prevent melanoma, people can:

  • protect their skin from the sun
  • avoid tanning beds and sun lamps
  • examine their skin regularly for changes or new growths
  • wear protective clothing and sunglasses outdoors
  • apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 daily
  • take extra precautions if they have a personal or family history of skin cancer

In conclusion, seborrheic keratosis and melanoma can be difficult to distinguish, but they have some key differences. Seborrheic keratosis are harmless growths that occur with age, while melanoma is a form of skin cancer that can be life-threatening.

People with unusual skin growths or a history of seborrheic keratosis should be vigilant for signs of melanoma and have any suspicious growths checked by a doctor. Protecting the skin from the sun, avoiding skin irritation, and wearing protective clothing can all help reduce the risk of developing both seborrheic keratosis and melanoma.