What Is Spitz Nevus?

Medically reviewed by Alana Biggers, MD on July 26, 2017Written by Julie Marks

Overview

A Spitz nevus is a rare type of skin mole that usually affects young people and children. Although it can look like a serious form of skin cancer called melanoma, a Spitz nevus lesion isn’t considered cancerous.

Read on to learn more about how you can detect these moles and how they’re treated.

Identification

A Spitz nevus usually appears pink and is shaped like a dome. Sometimes, the mole contains other colors, such as:

  • red
  • black
  • blue
  • tan
  • brown

These lesions are often found on the face, neck, or legs. They tend to grow quickly and can bleed or ooze. If you have a Spitz nevus, you may experience itching around the mole.

There are two types of Spitz nevi. Classic Spitz nevi are noncancerous and usually harmless. Atypical Spitz nevi are a little less predictable. They may act like cancerous lesions and are sometimes treated like melanomas.

Spitz nevi vs. melanomas

Most of the time, doctors can’t tell the difference between a Spitz nevus and a melanoma lesion by simply looking at it. Following are some differences:

CharacteristicSpitz nevusMelanoma
can bleed
may be multi-colored
larger
less symmetrical
more common in children and young adults
more common in adults

Spitz nevi and melanomas can be mistaken for one another. Because of this, Spitz nevi are sometimes treated more aggressively as a precautionary measure.

Pictures of Spitz nevus and melanoma

Incidence

Spitz nevi are not very common. Some estimates suggest they affect around 7 out of every 100,000 people.

About 70 percent of people who are diagnosed with a Spitz nevus are 20 years old or younger. These lesions can develop in older adults, too.

Children and young people with fair skin are more likely to develop a Spitz nevus.

Diagnosis

A Spitz nevus is typically diagnosed with a biopsy. This means your doctor will remove all or part of the mole and send it to a lab to be examined. It’s important that a trained and skilled pathologist examines the sample to determine if it’s a Spitz nevus or a more serious melanoma.

A skin biopsy doesn’t always provide a definitive diagnosis. You may need to have more testing, which might include a biopsy of your lymph nodes.

You should see a doctor right away if you have a mole that:

  • changes size, shape, or color
  • looks different from other moles on your skin
  • has an irregular border
  • causes itching or pain
  • isn’t symmetrical
  • spreads to areas around it
  • causes redness or swelling beyond its borders
  • is larger than 6 millimeters (mm) across
  • bleeds or oozes

If you’re uncertain about any spot on your body, it’s a good idea to get it checked. The American Cancer Society recommends regular skin exams and also promotes self-checks of the skin.

Treatment

Treatment methods for a Spitz nevus are controversial in the medical community.

Some doctors will do nothing at all or remove just a small piece of the mole for a biopsy to make sure it’s not melanoma. Other experts recommend surgically cutting out the entire mole to be on the safe side.

There have been some reported cases of people who were told they had a Spitz nevus, but it turned out to be a melanoma. For this reason, many physicians opt for a more aggressive treatment approach.

Talk to your doctor about the best treatment options for your particular situation.

Fast fact

Until 1948, a Spitz nevus was called a benign juvenile melanoma, and it was dealt with like a melanoma. Then, Dr. Sophie Spitz, a pathologist, identified a separate class of noncancerous moles, which became known as Spitz nevi. This distinction between the mole types was important. It paved the way for the support of less severe treatment options for people with this noncancerous type of lesion.

Outlook

If you or your child has a Spitz nevus, you should see a doctor to get it examined. This noncancerous mole is probably harmless, but it can be mistaken for melanoma, so it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis. Your doctor might decide simply to watch the spot, or you may need to have part or all of the mole removed.

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