A Clinical and Biological Review of Keratoacanthoma

A. Tisack; A. Fotouhi; C. Fidai; B.J. Friedman; D. Ozog; J. Veenstra


The British Journal of Dermatology. 2021;185(3):487-498. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Keratoacanthoma (KA) is a common skin tumour that remains controversial regarding classification, epidemiology, diagnosis, prognosis and management. Classically, a KA manifests as a rapidly growing, well-differentiated, squamoid lesion with a predilection for sun-exposed sites in elderly people and a tendency to spontaneously regress. Historically, KAs have been considered a variant of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC) and are often reported as KA-type cSCC. However, the penchant for regression has led many to categorize KAs as biologically benign tumours with distinct pathophysiological mechanisms from malignant cSCC. The clinical and histopathological similarities between KA and cSCC, particularly the well-differentiated variant of cSCC, have made definitive differentiation difficult or impossible in many cases. The ambiguity between entities has led to the general recommendation for surgical excision of KAs to ensure a potentially malignant cSCC is not left untreated. This current standard creates unnecessary surgical morbidity and financial strain for patients, especially the at-risk elderly population. There have been no reports of death from a definitive KA to date, while cSCC has an approximate mortality rate of 1·5%. Reliably distinguishing cSCC from KA would shift management strategies for KAs towards less-invasive treatment modalities, prevent unnecessary surgical morbidity, and likely reduce associated healthcare costs. Herein, we review the pathophysiology and clinical characteristics of KA, and conclude on the balance of current evidence that KA is a benign lesion and distinct from cSCC.