Cutaneous Horn: Causes, Diagnosis, Risk Factors, & Treatment

While most of these overgrowths are benign, some may spell trouble.

Medically reviewed by Dr Ashok Gund, MBBS, CSD Dr Ashok Gund Dr Ashok GundMBBS, CSD facebook_icon
Written by , MA (English Literature) Swathi E MA (English Literature) linkedin_icon Experience: 3 years
Edited by , BTech Anjali Sayee BTech linkedin_icon Experience: 7 years
Fact-checked by , MA (Journalism & Mass Communication) Monomita Chakraborty MA (Journalism & Mass Communication) linkedin_icon Experience: 4 years

A cutaneous horn is a skin growth caused by an overgrowth of keratin protein. It usually appears on the body and may grow a few millimeters or centimeters long. Most of the cutaneous horns are benign. However, some may be harmful and cancerous. This article explores the various aspects of cutaneous horns, their causes, risk factors, and treatment options. Read on to learn more.

What Are Cutaneous Horns?

Cutaneous horns are uncommon lesions made of compact keratin. They resemble an animal’s horn. They can occur anywhere on the body but are mostly seen in sun-exposed areas like the face, ear, nose, forearms, and hands. Though 60% of the cutaneous horns are non-cancerous, some may turn cancerous, too (1).

protip_icon Trivia
Cutaneous horn is also known by its Latin name cornu cutaneum.

How do you recognize a cutaneous horn?

How Does A Cutaneous Horn Look?

The cutaneous horn on hand
Image: Shutterstock

A cutaneous horn can appear in any shape and size, like a large bump, cone, thorn, or horn.

It is a horn-like growth on the skin and can be:

  •  White, tan, yellow, or brown

It can be of any shape:

  •  Cylindrical, conical, pointed, folded, or curved

It can occur on:

  •  Face, hands, ears, chest, arms, or nose

The base skin may get slightly thickened, and the horn can grow up to a few millimeters or centimeters. One may experience pain and infection if the horn is damaged.

These horns may indicate an underlying condition. But why do they occur on the body? What causes cutaneous horns?

Causes Of Cutaneous Horns

Cutaneous horn due to sun exposure
Image: Shutterstock
  •  Although the exact cause of cutaneous horns is unknown, it is believed to develop from excessive keratin on the skin. In addition, cellular aging and photodamage are also assumed to cause cutaneous horns (2).
  •  Sun exposure and old age are observed as the most common comorbiditiesi  A clinical term referring to other medical conditions that generally exist simultaneously in the presence of a particular disease. in cases of cutaneous horns (2).
  •  Both men and women can develop cutaneous horns. However, men are more likely to develop a cancerous horn (3).
  •  Although not established, people with fairer skin may have more chances of developing cutaneous horns (2).
  •  Cutaneous horns are often benign. But they can be cancerous too. For example, they could occur due to squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer developing in the cells in the middle and outer skin layers) or basal cell carcinoma (cancer that grows on the skin areas exposed to the sun).

protip_icon Did You Know?
In the mid-17th century, Danish anatomist Thomas Bartholin described cutaneous horns as a human tissue tumor condition. Before that, people with this condition were called “horned people.”

There are a few risk factors associated with cutaneous horns. We will discuss them in the next section.

Risk Factors Of Cutaneous Horns

Physician checking cutaneous horn
Image: Shutterstock

Cutaneous horns are not contagious. However, about 40% of the horns may be harmful and indicate Bowen’s disease or skin cancer (4). Hence, you must consult a physician when they first appear.

Common symptoms seen in cancerous horns are:

  •  Pain around the affected area
  •  Redness or bleeding
  •  Thickening at the base of the horn•
  •  Growth at a rapid pace

Cutaneous horns on the upper regions of the face and ears are more commonly associated with malignancy (1). Also, lesions with a wider base are more likely to be cancerous (2).

How can you know for sure if the horn is cancerous? Consulting a dermatology expert can help in diagnosing the lesion.

Diagnosis Of A Cutaneous Horn

Histological examination of cutaneous horn
Image: Shutterstock

Cutaneous horns are mostly examined by their clinical appearance. However, the risk of skin cancer warrants an excision and histological histological examinationi  The detailed study of body cells extracted from an affected area under a microscope to diagnose a disease, such as cancer. to determine if the horn is cancerous. Your doctor may suggest a biopsy test for the same. The entire horn is removed during a biopsy and sent for additional pathology tests to determine the right treatment options.

We will look into these treatment options in the next section.

Treatment For A Cutaneous Horn

The most chosen treatment is the removal of the horn, which can be carried out:

  •  Surgically
  •  Medically
  •  Via laser ablationi  A laser surgery that uses a light beam to remove or destroy unwanted lesions or cancerous growths from the body.

However, the type of treatment will also depend on the type of growth.

If the cutaneous horns are non-cancerous, treatment may include:

  •  Removing or excising the horns from the base
  •  Freezing the lesion with liquid nitrogen
  •  Burning the growth with laser

If the cutaneous horns are cancerous, treatment may include:

  •  Radiation therapy
  •  Chemotherapy
  •  Topical medicines to improve the immune system

Cutaneous horns may reappear or grow back even after removal. But following measures may help prevent their recurrence.

Reducing The Risk Of Cutaneous Horns

A woman wearing sunscreen to reduce the risk of cutaneous horns
Image: Shutterstock
  •  Decrease your sun exposure.
  •  Wear sun-protective clothing.
  •  Always wear sunscreen before stepping out in the sun.
  •  Avoid indulging in outdoor activities between 10 AM and 4 PM when the ultraviolet radiation could be at its peak (5).
  •  Perform self-skin checks and look for any uncommon growths on the skin.

Infographic: All You Need To Know About Cutaneous Horns

Cutaneous horns are rare skin growths that resemble small animal horns. While they are usually benign, some may be cancerous and cause distress due to their appearance. So, what causes these growths and how can they be prevented? Check out this infographic now to know more!

all you need to know about cutaneous horns (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Cutaneous horns are skin projections that are conical in shape. They form due to an overabundance of keratin, a protein that also forms the nails and hair. Cutaneous horns are more common in older people and usually form on sun-exposed body areas. They can be malignant, precancerous, or benign. Therefore, consult a doctor for a biopsy on a cutaneous horn to assess whether it is benign or potentially dangerous before destroying it. Even after removal, cutaneous horns might return or grow again. However, the suggestions in the article may aid in preventing recurrence.

Frequently Asked Questions

How common is a cutaneous horn?

A cutaneous horn is commonly observed in elderly individuals between 60 and 80. Both males and females develop cutaneous horns in the neck, head, and upper extremities (2).

Is cutaneous horn life-threatening?

Cutaneous horns may occasionally be an indication of skin cancer. Cutaneous horns are mostly benign lesions; however, studies show that nearly one-third of them can turn out to be malignant skin lesions (1).

Do cutaneous horns grow with age?

Yes, they do, but not in all cases. Anecdotal evidence suggest that the rate of their growth and size can differ from person to person, and that can be affected by a number of factors, including heredity, sun exposure, and underlying skin problems.

Key Takeaways

  • Made of compact keratin, cutaneous horns are uncommon lesions that look like animal horns.
  • Though these horns can appear anywhere in the body, they are primarily visible in areas exposed to the sun, like the face, ear, nose, forearms, and hands.
  • These horns are not contagious, but about 40% of them can indicate Bowen’s disease or skin cancer.

Watch this video to learn about the Lotus laser treatment for cutaneous horns. Discover how this revolutionary treatment can help you achieve smoother, healthier skin.


Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Cutaneous horn: A mask to underlying malignancy
  2. Cutaneous Horn
  3. A histopathological study of 643 cutaneous horns
  4. Cutaneous Horn Malignant Melanoma
  5. UV Radiation And The Skin
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Dr Ashok Gund

Dr Ashok GundMBBS, CSD (Dermatology)

Dr. Ashok Gund is a dermatologist with 21 years of experience. He provides services like ultrasonic lipolysis, I-lipolysis treatments for fat loss and body reshaping treatments, along with esthetic PRP treatments in Kalyan and Dombivli, Maharashtra, India
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