Spitz nevus

What is a Spitz nevus?
A Spitz nevus is a type of mole. It also may be called a nevus, Spitz lesion, juvenile melanoma, benign juvenile melanoma, or spindle and epithelioid cell nevus of Reed.

It is a group of nevus cells in the layers of the skin. Most people get moles during their life. A Spitz nevus can look very much a like a serious kind of skin cancer called melanoma. But a Spitz nevus doesn't act like a melanoma. It doesn't cause the damage to the body that a melanoma does. Most of the time there is only one lesion and it is the common type. There also are more rare types, and these are treated differently since they can be more like melanoma.

How are Spitz nevi diagnosed?
The diagnosis is made by surgically removing the area of skin involved. The skin is sent to a lab for a pathologist to examine. This is called a biopsy. and doctors who read the biopsies are called pathologists. Experienced pathologists can usually tell the difference between melanoma and a Spitz nevus. A pathologist who specializes in reading skin lesions is needed to make a proper diagnosis. Sometimes the results are not totally certain. Until the biopsy is done there may not have been a concern that it is a Spitz nevi. They can look just like other moles or skin lesions. Sometimes more testing is needed on the biopsy. At times, biopsies of lymph nodes in the same area of the body may be needed.

What is the treatment?
Most often the nevus is surgically removed at the same time the biopsy is done. Your doctor will talk about the different treatments to use depending on the severity of the lesion. At Children's Hospital of Wisconsin we have a special clinic called the Dermatology-Oncology Clinic where patients with these nevi are seen. Doctors from both Dermatology and Oncology review all the information about your child and provide opinions. A yearly skin exam by a dermatologist is important if your child has had a Spitz nevus. More frequent exams may be needed depending on your child's condition.

How can I prevent this type of skin lesion?
Look at your child's moles every month for any changes. Call the clinic or dermatologist for any concerns about the moles such as itching, bleeding, stinging, growing, feeling a lump under it or multiple colors starting within it. Avoid the midday sun and sunburn. Use a sunscreen, hat or clothes that protect the skin.

For more information. see The Spitz Nevus: Review and Update