Keloid (overview) L91.0

Authors: Prof. Dr. med. Peter Altmeyer, Alexandros Zarotis

All authors of this article

Last updated on: 29.10.2020

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Bead pit; keloidal scar; keloid scar; Scar keloid; Scar proliferation

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First mentioned in 1700 BC in the "Smith Papyrus"; Alibert coined the term "cheloid" in 1816, derived from the Greek word "chele" - crayfish shears.

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Benign, circumscribed connective tissue proliferation affecting a scar area and the surrounding healthy skin, often painful or itchy, which rarely occurs spontaneously (minimal trauma), otherwise months or even a few years after injury or chronic inflammation. The difference to a hypertrophic scar is that, by definition, a keloid exceeds the original scar area, whereas a hypertrophic scar does not. However, there are fluid transitions.

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See also under Scar - classification of scars according to Mustoe

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Young people, blacks and Asians are particularly predisposed (keloid prevalence: 4.5-16%). The risk of contracting keloid is 15-20 times higher in dark-skinned ethnic groups than in Caucasians.

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  • The exact pathomechanism is unknown.
  • In keloids an increased collagen synthesis by a factor of 20 has been proven. Structural proteins such as fibrin, fibronectin, glycosaminoglycans, collagen type III are replaced by extracellular matrix proteins, mainly collagen type I. It is not clear whether keloids are the result of increased collagen synthesis or reduced degradation.
  • The activity of fibroblasts (keratinocytes) and inflammatory cells is increased in keloids. Fibroblasts overexpress the IGF-I-receptor (insulin-like growth factor-I-receptor) and produce more potent cytokines such as TGF-beta (transforming growth factor), PDGF (platelet derived growth factor) and CTGF (connective tissue growth factor). Keratinocytes release increased amounts of TGF-beta.
  • PAI-I (plasminogen activator inhibitor I) and HIF-I-alpha (hypoxia inducible factor I alpha) are both increased in keloid fibroblasts
  • Inhibitors of collagen synthesis such as interferons, interleukin-1 and TNF-α represent starting points for new therapeutic strategies.
  • The occurrence of itching can be explained by the sprouting of regenerating, hypersensitive nerves. Inflammatory mediators and an increased level of NGF intensify this.

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Mostly occurring in young adults. The average age of first manifestation is 23 years for both sexes. Sexual predomination does not exist.

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Except palms and soles of feet everywhere, especially upper half of the body, pre-sternal, shoulder region, upper arms, earlobes (earrings).

Clinical features
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Weeks to months after an injury or spontaneously occurring. Development of a sharply contrasting, plate- or nodular growth of varying thickness, which protrudes above the surrounding area and, due to rapid growth, exceeds the actual scar area and often shows cancer-scissor-like runners at the edges.

Loss of skin relief, hair and sebaceous glands in the affected area. The colour is initially reddish to brown-red, later white-reddish to ivory. More often, telangiectasia occurs on the surface of the skin lesions.

Not infrequently, there is marked pressure or spontaneous pain, but local itching, paresthesia, numbness, contractures (in the case of localization beyond the joint) may also be present. Keloids are very often perceived as a cosmetic impairment by those affected.

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Image of a cell-rich fibroma. Unchanged or moderately diluted, more rarely acanthotic epidermis. The regular arrangement of the collagen as in normal scars is abolished. Fresh keloids show numerous fibroblasts, increased myxoidal basic substance, collagenous fibres as well as capillaries and inflammatory infiltrates. Later, cell-poor, dense knots of homogenized fibers. Atrophic hair, sebaceous and sweat glands. Disordered alignment of collagen fibres.

Differential diagnosis
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Hypertrophic scar: Does not exceed the original scar field by definition! Therefore easy to distinguish.

Dermatofibroma (histiocytoma): Usually asymptomatic, coarse, yellow-reddish or reddish-brown, not or only slightly protruding (important DD) from the surrounding skin level, sometimes also centrally sunken, well defined nodules firmly caked to the epidermis. Size rarely > 1.0 cm.

Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans: Up to 10 cm in size, very coarse, skin-coloured to brownish lividity (the bright red colour of the keloid is always missing), bumpy nodule consisting of a nodular and an underlying plate-like part. Mostly not painful. Typical is the "iceberg phenomenon". Histology is diagnostic.

Leiomyoma: Mostly smooth, for the keloid untypical localized, hardly 0.5 cm large, often also grouped nodules. histology is diagnostic.

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The therapy of keloids is extremely difficult and lengthy: the keloids should be at rest before correction, i.e. they should not grow any further. Furthermore, the therapy should only be carried out if the indication is very strict (see also prophylaxis).

  • Glucocorticosteroids (level of evidence III): Therapy of first choice is the multiple, strictly intralesional application of glucocorticoids, e.g. triamcinolone acetonide and local anaesthetics (1 ml Volon A 10 (40) + 1-2 ml 1% scandicain). Note: Take your time during injection, use a thin needle and overcome the internal pressure of the keloid with little effort (at this moment a so-called "blaching effect" occurs, which indicates the sufficient amount of therapy). Application (depending on size and success) e.g. 1 time per month for 6-12 months. Recovery rates between 50-100%; recurrence rates between 9-50%. The sublesional application is simpler, but pointless. Cave! Risk of fatty tissue atrophy, especially in women!
  • Occlusive therapy (level of evidence III); supplementary therapy: Permanent occlusion and hydration of the stratum corneum with silicone gel foil (e.g. Mepiform, Cicacare, Dermatix) or polyurethane plasters (Hansaplast scar reduction plasters) leads to remarkably good results when applied consistently and permanently (> 3 months).
  • Compression therapy (level of evidence III); supplementary therapy: For larger keloids, different procedures depending on age, size and localisation: If topographically possible, consistent wearing of a pressure pad for several months. Continuous continuous pressure and external oxygen reduction reduce fibroblast growth. Often excellent effectiveness if carried out consistently at an early stage. Elastic bandages, pads and specially made compression garments make this procedure easy to apply to the joints and thorax, but technically more difficult in areas such as the face and neck. This therapy must be carried out for at least 1 year.
  • Alternative: Cryosurgery: 2 cycles, temperature in the keloid centre -30 °C. Immediately after thawing, injection of 40-80 mg of triamcinolone acetonide into the edematous keloid area. Repeat the method if necessary. Possibly in combination with pressure pad and silicon gel foil.
  • Alternative: laser therapy: laser systems for vaporization and ablation. Keloids can be ablated down to the skin level, e.g. with CO 2 laser. After removal of the exophytic parts, further treatment with cryocontact therapy or by means of intralesional glucocorticoid injections. Alternatively, pulsed dye lasers (585-595nm) are recommended.
  • Alternative: UV-therapy: Recent observations also suggest UVA-irradiation after surgical planing/excision with a strength of 20 J/cm2, 4 times/week over 4-6 weeks.
  • Alternative: intralesional, 5-fluorouracil treatments(once/week; concentration of the injectate: 50 mg/ml. Total dose per injection treatment 50-150 mg), max. 16 injections (NW: injections are painful; in rare cases ulcer formation. Note: This monotherapeutic approach is not recommended by experts! The guidelines recommend a monthly intralesional therapy of a combination of 5-fluorouracil with triamcinolone acetonide in a mixing ratio of 9:1 (0.9ml 50mg/ml 5-fluorouracil: 0.1ml 40mg/ml triamcinolone acetonide). In different In various studies good results were achieved with a mixing ratio of 1:3 (5-fluorouracil/trimacinolone acetonide).
  • Alternatively (third line therapy): Partial surgical resection and immediately after the operation generous intralesional application of 40-80 mg triamcinolone acetonide. Only to be used for keloids with concomitant movement restriction, in case of non-response to other therapies, in case of very large and cosmetically considerably disturbing keloids! There is a risk of recurrence that should not be underestimated (50-100% with monotherapeutic surgical procedure!) with possibly more aggressive growth behaviour than before and enlargement of the original keloid.
  • Alternative (experimental): Avotermin (TGF-beta3), a potent antifibrinolytic cytokine, which is applied in fresh incision wounds (placebo-controlled studies are available).
  • Alternative (experimental): Treatment of large-area keloids by tattooing ("pricking with a prick needle") of a bleomycin solution (concentration 1.5 IU/ml and 40 punctures/mm2) represents a good therapeutic alternative.
  • Alternative therapy, topical: (level of evidence III): Onion extracts, heparin or allantoin should inhibit the excessive fibroblast proliferation. In the therapy-free interval, massage the keloid several times with a scar therapeutic agent (e.g. Contractubex) for several minutes, but the success is usually rather moderate.
  • Alternatively, as an ultimate ratio and absolute resistance to therapy, combination therapy of local corticoid injection immediately following the operation, compression or soft X-ray radiation (ED: 3 Gy at weekly intervals, GD: 12 Gy).
  • Concluding general remarks:
    • In many cases, due to the complexity of the pathogenesis and the unpredictable response of the treatment to be chosen, a combination of several therapeutic procedures is recommended, such as compression and/or silicone-gel foil and/or (in the absence of success) surgical procedures, possibly with internal mass reduction and directly following cryosurgery or compression and/or repeated cryosurgery.
    • The procedure to be used also depends on the respective localisation, growth behaviour, size of the keloid and the experience of the therapist (e.g. there is no alternative to compression therapy for keloid of the earlobe).
    • Apart from the evidence, the personal experience of the therapist is of decisive importance, as he or she knows how to handle the therapeutic agents to be used safely!

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  • Prevention! Consider the risks of keloid formation before every operation! Avoid elective surgery in predisposed patients (own and family anamnesis) at a young age and in predisposed areas such as the décolleté, shoulder and back.
  • If operations cannot be avoided, care should be taken to ensure tension-free sutures during wound closure.
  • Patch pulls over 12 weeks can significantly reduce the risk of keloid formation.
  • In addition, silicone gels or plasters (see above) can be applied after epithelialisation.

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  1. Alibert JLM (1816) Quelques recherches sur les cheloides. Mem Soc Médicale d`Emulation 8: 744
  2. Alibert JLM (1816) Note sur la chéloïde. Journal universel des sciences médicales (Paris) 2: 207-216
  3. Apikian M et al (2004) Intralesional 5-fluorouracil in the treatment of keloid scars. Australas J Dermatol 45: 140-143
  4. Aschoff R (2014) Therapy of hypertrophic scars and keloids. Dermatologist 65: 1067-1077
  5. Atkinson JA et al. (2005) Randomized controlled trial to determine the efficacy of paper tape in preventing hypertrophic scar formation in surgical incisions that transvers Langer`s skin tension lines. Plast Reconstr Surgery 33: 1291-1303
  6. Breasted JH (1930) The Edwin Smith surgical papyrus,Vol 1 Hieroglyphic translation and commentary.University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 403-406
  7. Gira AK et al (2004) Keloids demonstrate high-level epidermal expression of vascular endothelial growth factor. J Am Acad Dermatol 50: 850-853
  8. Kelly AP (2004) Medical and surgical therapies for keloids. Dermatol Ther 17: 212-218
  9. Mustoe TA et al (2005) International clinical recommendations on scar management. Plast Reconstr Surgery 110: 560-571
  10. Poetschke J et al (2016) Current options for the treatment of pathological scarring. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges 14:467-477.
  11. Van Loey NE et al (2008) Itching following burns: epidemiology and predictors. Br J Dermatol 158:95-100.


Please ask your physician for a reliable diagnosis. This website is only meant as a reference.


Last updated on: 29.10.2020