Spitz nevus are rare, benign moles that closely resemble melanoma. They usually appear before the age of 20, however, they can appear on adults as well. Because their appearance closely resembles melanoma, it is important to have these lesions seen by a dermatologist.
History of Spitz Nevi
Prior to 1948, lesions now known as Spitz nevi, were called benign juvenile melanoma. It was thought that these lesions should be removed before developing into melanoma. Then, Sophie Spitz determined that there was a separate class of benign lesions that were unrelated to melanoma. The name was changed to Spitz nevi, after Sophie and because the term melanoma was too negative.
Physical Appearance of Spitz Nevus
Spitz nevi usually appear as a small, pink dome lesion. It can have other colors in it, such as red, black or brown. The lesion can sometimes bleed or ooze. Although more than half of Spitz nevi are elevated, they can also appear flat. They normally appear on the face, neck or legs but can appear on other parts of the body as well. There is usually only one lesion.
Spitz Nevi vs. Melanoma
There are some differences between melanoma and Spitz nevi. Melanomas are typically larger than 6 mm and asymmetrical. However, both melanoma and Spitz nevi share certain characteristics, such as more than one color within the lesion, ulceration or bleeding from the lesion.
Because there is a close resemblance of Spitz Nevi and melanoma, it can be difficult to tell the difference simply by examining the lesion. Your doctor might remove a section of skin and send it to a laboratory to be looked at under a microscope. It can still be confused with melanoma so it is important to have a pathologist who specializes in skin lesions look at the tissue sample to determine if it is melanoma or Spitz nevi.
Age is often taken into consideration when diagnosing Spitz nevi. Melanoma occurs only rarely in children and Spitz nevi is more common in children and adolescents. According to an article on DermatologyReview.org, by Daryl J. Sulit, the average age of those with Spitz nevi was 21 years old and the average age for melanoma was 56 years old.
Melanoma in young children is rare, however, it is the second most common form of cancer for those between the ages of 15 and 29 according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Because of this it is important that doctors do not dismiss a mole as being a Spitz nevi without having completing diagnostic tests. A dermatoscopy can be used to look at the mole. For adults, your doctor might recommend a biopsy be completed.
When a child is diagnosed with Spitz nevi, treatment is not always necessary. If the mole is stable (not increasing in size) and symmetrical, your child’s doctor might recommend leaving it alone. The lesions sometimes disappear on their own. Talk to your doctor about the different options to determine which is best for your child.
If an adult is diagnosed with Spitz nevi, surgical removal and a biopsy is often recommended.
Because they are benign, no further treatment is usually necessary. However, monthly skin checks of your child’s skin and annual exams by a dermatologist are important. Your doctor might suggest you or your child come in for a skin check more often than once a year. If you notice any changes in your child’s moles or your child is complaining that a mole itches, is bleeding or causing discomfort, let the doctor know immediately.
"Spitz Naevus," Modified 2013, Dec. 29, Staff Writer, DermaNet New Zealand Trust
"Spitz Nevus," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.