Cutaneous Horns: Causes, Diagnosis, And Treatment

Written by Swathi E , Certified Skin Care Coach

Have you ever noticed small horn-like bumps on someone’s skin? Those projections are called cutaneous horns. They occur on one’s body and grow up to a few millimeters or centimeters long. Such growths are usually benign but may be harmful too. But how can you know for sure?

Here, we discuss cutaneous horns, their causes, risk factors, and the treatment options available. Keep reading to know 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).

How do you recognize a cutaneous horn?

How Does A Cutaneous Horn Look?

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

  •  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 comorbidities 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).

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

Risk Factors Of Cutaneous Horns

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? The right diagnosis can help.

Diagnosis Of A Cutaneous Horn

Cutaneous horns are mostly examined by their clinical appearance. However, the risk of skin cancer warrants a histological examination 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 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 ablation

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

  •  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.

To Conclude

Cutaneous horns are conical projections formed on the skin. They occur in areas exposed to the sun, like the face, ears, neck, chest, etc. They are believed to be caused by excess keratin on the skin, photodamage, or cellular aging. However, they may also be cancerous. Hence, consult your doctor immediately to understand the right course of treatment.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

Can we pull off a cutaneous horn?

Never try to pull off a cutaneous horn by yourself. Instead, always consult a medical practitioner who can remove it in a clinical setting.

How fast do cutaneous horns grow?

The growth of cutaneous horns depends on the underlying disease. Non-cancerous horns may grow slowly over a few months or years. However, cancerous horns tend to grow rapidly.

Will cutaneous removal cause scarring?

Cutaneous removal may cause scarring. It depends on the size and growth of the horn removed.


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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