What is Adenoma Sebaceum?

D. Jeffress

Adenoma sebaceum is a type of skin disorder in which small, pink lesions appear on the face. It is usually a symptom of a larger condition called tuberous sclerosis, a genetic disease that can also affect the heart and brain. Adenoma sebaceum, which often resembles acne, is considered benign and does not pose a health risk. Treatment for skin lesions is usually performed for cosmetic reasons and involves laser surgery to remove the bumps. Depending on the severity of other symptoms of tuberous sclerosis, a person may need to take regular medications or undergo other types of corrective surgery.

In rare cases, tuberous sclerosis tumors can emerge on the tongue.
In rare cases, tuberous sclerosis tumors can emerge on the tongue.

Tuberous sclerosis results from a specific genetic defect, and can lead to the growth of benign tumors on the brain, heart, kidneys, or skin. The skin tumors can take many forms, but adenoma sebaceum is the most common type. An infant born with tuberous sclerosis may also suffer from developmental disabilities, seizures, and breathing problems. The condition cannot be cured, and treatment measures are generally aimed at reducing symptoms and the chances of dangerous medical complications.

Tuberous sclerosis can lead to the growth of benign tumors on the kidneys.
Tuberous sclerosis can lead to the growth of benign tumors on the kidneys.

Adenoma sebaceum tends to emerge around the age of two and worsen until a child reaches puberty. Lesions are described by doctors as angiofibromas, small collections of fibrous tissue and blood vessels. The bumps are usually smooth, pink or light red in color, and less than 0.2 inches (about 0.5 cm) in diameter. A person with mild adenoma sebaceum may have only a few lesions on the sides of the nose, while a severe case can nearly cover the nose, cheeks, and under-eye areas.

Adenoma sebaceum can affect the heart.
Adenoma sebaceum can affect the heart.

A small number of patients with tuberous sclerosis experience adenoma sebaceum on other areas of the skin. Some people have lesions on their scalps and foreheads, and rarely tumors can emerge on the lips, tongue, or the roof of the mouth. A few people have noticeable bumps under and near fingernails and toenails. Tuberous sclerosis can also produce more widespread skin discoloration and tumors, though such conditions are considered separate from adenoma sebaceum.

Laser treatments may remove unsightly bumps caused by adenoma sebaceum.
Laser treatments may remove unsightly bumps caused by adenoma sebaceum.

Adenoma sebaceum is not itself dangerous to a person's health, but many patients choose to undergo corrective surgery to improve their appearances. A skilled dermatologist can perform a procedure called laser ablation to remove the lesions. A series of treatments with argon and carbon dioxide lasers can gradually reduce the size and prominence of bumps. Since underlying tuberous sclerosis cannot be cured, lesions tend to reemerge over time. Ongoing treatment over the course of several months or years is generally necessary to minimize the appearance of new angiofibromas.

Adenoma sebaceum may appear on the forehead.
Adenoma sebaceum may appear on the forehead.

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