Children may develop a benign (noncancerous) mole called a Spitz nevus (named for Sophie Spitz, MD, who originally described them in 1948) after they are 18 months of age.
A Spitz nevus is typically under 1 centimeter in diameter, firm, raised, and pink or reddish-brown. It may be smooth or scaly and usually appears on the face, particularly the cheeks. Spitz nevi (the plural of nevus) are not harmful, but they can be difficult to differentiate from melanoma, even for experts. An excisional biopsy is thus recommended to confirm the diagnosis. Spitz nevi may be removed surgically, although they can regress on their own.
Spitz nevus is also known as benign juvenile melanoma, nevus of spindle/epithelioid cell type or spindle cell nevus.
More About Moles
The typical mole is a brown spot. But moles come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes:
- Color and texture: Moles can be brown, tan, black, red, blue or pink. They can be smooth, wrinkled, flat or raised. They may have hair growing from them.
- Shape: They can vary in shape from oval to round.
- Size: Moles are usually less than 1/4 inch (about 6 millimeters) in diameter — the size of a pencil eraser. Rarely, moles present at birth can be much bigger, covering wide areas of the face, torso or a limb.
Moles can develop anywhere on your body, including your scalp, armpits, under your nails, and between your fingers and toes. Most people have 10 to 45 moles. Most of these develop by age 40. Moles may change in appearance over time — some may even disappear with age. Hormonal changes of adolescence and pregnancy may cause moles to become darker, larger and more numerous.
How to Identify Melanoma
This ABCDE guide can help you determine if a mole or a spot may be a melanoma:
- A is for asymmetrical shape. One half is unlike the other half.
- B is for border. Look for moles with irregular, notched or scalloped borders.
- C is for color. Look for growths that have changed color, have many colors or have an uneven color.
- D is for diameter. Look for new growth in a mole larger than 1/4 inch (about 6 millimeters).
- E is for evolving. Watch for moles that change in size, shape, color or height, especially if part or all of a mole turns black.
Cancerous (malignant) moles vary greatly in appearance. Some may show all of the features listed above. Others may have only one or two.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
See your healthcare provider if you have a mole that:
- Is painful
- Itches or burns
- Oozes or bleeds
- Shows any of the ABCDE characteristics listed above
- Grows back after having been removed before
- Is new and you’re over 30 years old
If you’re concerned about any mole, see your healthcare provider or ask for a referral to a healthcare provider who specializes in skin conditions (dermatologist).