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What Is a Cutaneous Horn?

By Dorothy Bland
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Cutaneous horns are the name given to a relatively rare type of skin growth where the affected individual develops protruding lesions from the base of the skin. Also referred to as cornu cutaneum, a cutaneous horn can often be described as looking and feeling like miniature animal horns. Although they are generally no larger than a few millimeters in size, lesions can vary in size, and some are greater than several centimeters in length. These tumors originate in the skin and primarily affect the elderly population. Treatment for the growths will usually focus on removal and future prevention.

In actuality, the term cutaneous horn is a descriptive term referring to keratinous skin tumors. These tumors occur when a buildup of keratin occurs in the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin. Keratin is a strong protein that is the chief component of the skin, hair, and teeth. When a cutaneous horn occurs, the skin thickens and a compacted keratin tissue projection occurs. Growth is often slow, occurring over weeks, months, or even years in some cases. The abnormal growths tend to occur on top of other epidermal lesions such as warts.

Although cutaneous horn causes are not fully understood, the condition primarily presents in people of advanced years, typically in fair-skinned persons who have had significant sun exposure over their lifetime. In fact, the lesion will usually develop on areas that experience the most sun exposure, such as the face, nose, and back of the hands. The horns can appear on practically any area of the body, however, including the legs and back.

If a cutaneous horn is present, medical evaluation is generally needed. This is not just due to cosmetic reasons, however. Instead, the primary concern is that the lesion at the base of the horn may be precancerous or cancerous. Lesions that are sensitive or tender at the base and larger in size are more likely to be malignant, and prompt medical attention is normally merited.

To determine if the lesion is benign, a biopsy can be done. A dermatologist or other qualified medical professional can then surgically remove the horn. If the horn is cancerous, topical chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy may also be recommended to treat the skin cancer.

In order to prevent another cutaneous horn from occurring and to prevent skin cancer, follow-up doctor visits are typically suggested. Additionally, patients are usually directed to always protect all areas of exposed skin whenever going outside. Wearing a wide brimmed hat, putting on sunglasses, and wearing clothing that covers up the arms and legs can help to keep the skin shaded.

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