Moles and nevi are tan or brown. They may be raised or flat areas of the skin. These areas have an increased number of melanocytes. Melanocytes are the cells in our body which make pigment and account for skin color.
Small birth moles (brown birth marks) are present in 1% of all newborn babies. Most moles appear in older children or adults. Giant birth moles (larger than 8 inches) are rare. They are found in less than one in 20,000 newborn infants.
The risk of the small and medium-sized birth moles changing into melanoma, a deadly type of skin cancer, is slightly increased. Yet the exact increase in risk is not agreed upon. Many studies are now being done to try to decide how much of a risk there is. Since there may be a risk of these birth moles turning into melanoma, we advise that they be removed at some point. But since the risk appears to be greater during the teenage years and beyond, we can wait and remove the mole when the child is older and only a numbing medicine is needed.
Meanwhile, it is best to inspect birth moles on a frequent basis at home until they are removed. We also advise that the moles be checked by a dermatologist yearly, with photos taken over time.
Early signs that a mole might be changing into a melanoma are listed below.
- The borders of the mole become jagged.
- The mole changes in color.
- A change in the smooth surface of the mole.
If you notice any of these changes, call your dermatologist to have the mole checked.
Babies with giant birth moles clearly have an increased risk of getting melanomas. Up to about 2% of these giant moles become melanomas. Many of them will occur during the first ten years of life, so these giant moles must be watched closely. If surgery is needed to remove them, we advise that it be done by a pediatric plastic surgeon. It can be done as early as 6 months of age (or before if we are worried that melanoma is present). If a large amount of skin needs to be removed, skin grafts or tissue expanders can be used.
Joyce M. C. Teng, M.D. PhD
UW Dermatology Department
1 S. Park St 7th Floor
Madison, WI 53715
Clinic: 608 287-2450
American Family Children’s Hospital
Pediatric Dermatology Specialty Clinic
1675 Highland Ave.
Madison, WI 53792
Clinic: 608 263-6420
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Last Updated: 11/16/2007
Copyright © 11/22/2006 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6455
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