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What are Cutaneous Lesions?

By Synthia L. Rose
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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A cutaneous lesion is a patch of skin that contrasts with surrounding tissue due to differences in texture, thickness, and pigment. Derived from the Latin root cutis, which means skin, these lesions are superficial and can be rough, smooth, leather-like, or raised. They are often characterized as a visual warning sign for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) since they appear as one of its earliest symptoms. They are also frequently evidence of skin cancer and skin infections like ringworm, rosacea, and lichen planus. Cutaneous lesions, however, can innocuously appear on newborns as simple birthmarks.

There are specific types of cutaneous lesions distinguished by their composition. Some lesions are made of lipoproteins and are referred to as “asteroid bodies.” Phosphate, iron, and calcium carbonate make up another set of lesions referred to as “Schaumann's bodies.” Residual bodies are composed of lipomucoprotein granules.

Locations of these lesions can span the whole body, especially when they are the result of systemic diseases like lupus. The face, scalp, back and arms are typically areas in which lesions form; they can occur in multiples or as a singular lesion that grows and spreads. Some people suffer lesions on their feet and hands. The presence of lesions on the scalp can often lead to localized hair loss. Mycobacterium tuberculosis can cause lesions on the penis, although they are rare.

Cancer tumors can start off as cutaneous lesions and are frequently misdiagnosed as mere skin infections. Medical reports show that some patients who suspected their lesions to be ringworm discovered they had lymphoma after the lesions were biopsied by doctors. Early treatment of malignant lesions can be successful and prevent the cancer from spreading into lymph nodes and throughout the body, doctors say.

Lesions from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are the type most commonly seen on HIV victims and patients with acquired immunodeficiency disease (AIDS). Other HIV-related lesions are caused by herpes and tuberculosis. These can be treated with anti-viral drugs.

Sarcoidosis, a disease affecting the lungs, eyes, and lymph nodes, can manifest as cutaneous lesions in at least 20 percent of people with the disease. Often these purplish lesions are the only early effects of this disease that eventually spreads beyond the skin to body tissues. The nose and scalp are the most common areas in which to find sarcoidosis-linked lesions.

Treatments for cutaneous lesions include antibiotics, methotrexate, and griseofulvin taken orally. Radiation is an alternative option. Some lesions cannot be cured, but may be mitigated with steroid medications applied topically. Dermatologists might also employ retinoids and immunosuppressives to halt lesions. Occasionally, the presence of a disfiguring lesion can be surgically removed; once cutaneous lesions are removed or cured, pits or scars can be left behind.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1002795 — On Feb 18, 2020

I have had constipation for a long time. Skin lesions, diagnosed with essential tremors, insomnia for years, even swimming 1/3 of a mile and walking every day. Now much older and lots of meds to help with insomnia, constipation, nerves. Neck and shoulder hurt most of the time altho taking pain meds.

when diagnosed with sarcoidosis my temp would go up to 101 and down to 95;

I ended up in hospital because the doctor doubled and then tripled propranolol. 94.7 temp. and tremors that shook a recliner they put me in. too much too soon?

Just thought skin lesions were not a problem but will discuss this with my doctor today. I have recently changed doctors and hope to have some relief. My mother told me about a week before she died that she had porphyria. Didn't think to ask when she was diagnosed. I never thought much about it until recently all these symptoms have been so long going on. I had a small growth like a white bubble removed years ago. It came back and was about 1 1/2 inches long purple and rose well above my arm. The doctor went very deep to get it all and I have a misshapen arm.

By Lostnfound — On Oct 31, 2014

I have a cutaneous lesion on my arm, but it's very small -- a pencil eraser would cover it, with room left over. My doctor has evaluated it and said she thought it was scar tissue of some kind. It has not changed in any way, except maybe faded a little. It hasn't grown and the skin texture hasn't changed. I keep an eye on it, but she said to do that, but also to leave it alone. I'm not supposed to scratch it or mess with it.

I wouldn't mind having it removed, but I would rather have someone do it who wouldn't leave a huge scar on my arm from a tiny lesion.

By Grivusangel — On Oct 31, 2014

My cousin had a cutaneous lesion on her arm; it was a birthmark. Because it was so darkly pigmented, her doctor referred her to a dermatologist to have it assessed. He said it was all right at that moment, but he was really afraid it could start a melanoma growing.

She finally had it removed, and apparently, the surgeon had to cut kind of deep to get it all. She has a scar on her arm that looks a lot worse than the lesion ever did, but the lesion is gone. It was fairly large -- probably an inch long and maybe half an inch wide. She says she's glad she doesn't have to worry about it, but wishes she had a real plastic surgeon repair the outer skin, since you can see the suture lines as scars.

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