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Keloids: Overview

What is a keloid?

A keloid is a type of raised scar. Unlike other raised scars, keloids grow much larger than the wound that caused the scar.

Keloid scar on the back of a hand.

Keloid scar on the back of the hand of an African American man.

Not everyone who gets a scar will develop a keloid. If you have keloid-prone skin, however, anything that can cause a scar may lead to a keloid. This includes a cut, burn, or severe acne. Some people see a keloid after they pierce their ears or get a tattoo. A keloid can also form as chickenpox clear. Sometimes, a surgical scar becomes a keloid.

In very rare cases, keloids form when people do not injure their skin. These are called “spontaneous keloids.”

A keloid usually takes time to appear. After an injury, months can pass before this scar appears. A keloid can also form more quickly.

Once it begins, a keloid can enlarge slowly for months or years.

Can keloids turn into cancer?

Keloids do not turn into cancer.

The size and shape of keloids vary. On an earlobe, you’ll likely see a round, solid mass. When a keloid forms on a shoulder or the chest, the raised scar tends to spread out across the skin. It often looks like a liquid spilled on the skin and then hardened.

As these raised scars grow, they may feel painful or itchy. A keloid that covers a joint or large area can decrease a person’s ability to move that part of the body.

Treatment can help reduce symptoms like pain and itch. If the scar makes moving difficult, treatment can help a person regain some movement.

Treating a keloid, however, can be involved. To reduce the chance of another keloid forming after treatment, more than one type of treatment may be necessary.

No one treatment is best for all keloids. To give their patients the best results, dermatologists choose treatment based on the patient’s age, type of keloid, and other considerations. For example, one patient with a keloid on an earlobe may get better results if the scar is surgically removed in layers (called shaving) than surgically cut out.

Because keloids can be a challenge to treat, dermatologists recommend taking steps to prevent keloids. You’ll find tips for preventing these scars along with information about treatment and who gets these scars by clicking on tabs above.

Getty Images

Burton CS and Escaravage V. “Hypertrophic scars and keloids.” In: Bolognia JL, et al. Dermatology. (second edition). Mosby Elsevier, Spain, 2008:1487-1502.

Daggett A, Congcharoen J, et al. “Top 10 things you need to know about keloids and their treatment.” J Miss State Med Assoc. 2016;57(4):108-11.

Kelly AP. “Keloids” In Kelly AP, Taylor SC, et al. Dermatology for Skin of Color. The McGraw Hill Companies, China, 2009. 178-94.