What is a seborrhoeic wart?
Most doctors refer to these lesions as seborrhoeic keratosis or seborrhoeic keratoses. They are also know as basal cell papillomas. But you may hear this type of lesion called an “SK”, senile wart, wisdom wart or even just a brown wart. They all refer to the same type of skin lesion, which appears as a scaly patch on the skin and is often brown in colour.
They are benign – they carry no cancer risk – and become increasingly more common with age. The British Association of Dermatologists estimates that three quarters of pension age people have at least one.
How are they caused?
It’s not known exactly why seborrhoeic warts appear, but there are some factors that seem to make them more likely:
- Hereditary – some families are more likely to develop them
- Recent sunburn or accumulated Sun exposure
- Friction in the folds of the skin
However, they are also seen in young patients who have none of these factors.
Why are they treated?
The primary reasons for treatment are usually:
- Concerns about appearance, particularly on the face and head
- Warts that are continuing to grow or spread
- Itching or irritation in the skin
Occasionally seborrhoeic warts may be look similar to moles associated with skin cancer, called melonoma. These must be seen urgently and, if there is any uncertainty, are often removed as a precaution.
An inspection is carried out by a Dermatologist, or by a specialist Surgeon, GP or Dermatology Nurse. The Doctor or Nurse will usually be quickly able to distinguish it from other common types of skin lesion such as cysts, moles and lipoma. A history of recent changes in the wart(s) will be taken.
A seborrhoeic wart will usually be slightly raised from the skin and have a rough or scaly surface. They’re usually brown but sometimes appear to be grey or yellow. They can range from a couple of millimetres in size to quite large patches of several centimetres or more.
Before the development of modern laser technology, seborrhoeic warts could only be treated surgically. This method is still used if a sample is needed for biopsy.
But wherever possible, it’s usually preferable to treat with a CO2 or YAG laser. The precision of modern lasers means minimal irritation for the surrounding skin. As laser removal does not leave scars in the same way, this means large areas on the head and face can be treated very successfully.