Keloids are benign, or non-invasive, growths that arise from scar tissue. They can occur after any skin injury, including cuts, ear piercings, surgery and even acne. Your body uses chemicals, called "growth factors," to heal wounds. Keloids form when normal growth factors overreact. Even after normal scar tissue forms around the injury, those growth factors continue to create fibrous tissue and collagen, which can result in a keloid nodule developing on and around the scar. In some cases, the nodules are large and disfiguring. They can also be painful or cause itching.
If you have keloids, your family physician can perform an initial review of your condition. Depending on the seriousness of the keloid, your doctor may provide treatment or refer you to a dermatologist, a physician who specializes in conditions that affect the skin, nails and hair.
Keloid treatment is most effective if is performed shortly after the growth first forms. The physician may begin treatment by injecting steroids, a type of prescription medication, into the keloid. Because the injections must be performed monthly, steroid treatment requires regular visits to your doctor's office. Keloids can also be frozen with liquid nitrogen. The two treatments can be completed concurrently to improve results.
Complications can occur from both the steroid and liquid nitrogen treatments. Steroids can cause skin atrophy, a condition that can cause pitting on the skin surface. Liquid nitrogen can lighten the skin, a side effect that is of particular concern for people with dark skin.
If the steroid and liquid nitrogen treatments both fail, a plastic surgeon can remove the keloid surgically. A steroid is usually also injected into the keloid before, during and after the procedure. Other experimental treatments have been tried, but are not routinely used.
Keloids are most common in people with African and Asian ancestry. You can minimize your risk for keloids by avoiding piercings and tattoos. If a wound occurs, keep it moist with petroleum jelly and cover it with a non-stick bandage to help speed wound healing and possibly prevent the keloid from forming. Keloids have a 50 percent recurrence rate, which means that after removal, about half the time another one will form.