Birthmarks - pigmented



Birthmarks - pigmented

Definition

A birthmark is skin marking present at birth that ranges in color from brown or black to bluish or blue-gray. Birthmarks include cafe-au-lait spots, moles, and mongolian spots. (See also birthmarks - red.)

Alternative Names

Nevus sebaceous; Hairy nevus; Nevi; Mole; Cafe-au-lait spots; Congenital nevus

Causes

Cafe-au-lait spots are a light tan spot, the color of coffee with milk. They may be a normal type of birthmark. The presence of several cafe-au-lait spots larger than a quarter may occur in neurofibromatosis (a genetic disorder that causes abnormal cell growth of nerve tissues).

Moles are small clusters of pigmented skin cells. Nearly everyone has moles, which usually appear after birth.

Large moles present at birth (congenital nevi) are more likely to become skin cancer (malignant melanoma). This is especially true if the mole covers an area larger than the size of a fist. All congenital nevi should be examined by a health care provider, and any change in the birthmark should be reported. Watch for changes in the size or color, or sudden ulceration, bleeding, or itching in the birthmark.

A mongolian spot (also called a mongolian blue spot) is usually bluish or bruised-looking. It usually appears over the lower back or buttocks, sometimes in other areas including the trunk or arms. These spots are more commonly seen in darker-skinned populations and may persist for months or years. They do NOT become cancer or develop other symptoms.

Symptoms

  • Skin, abnormally dark or light
    • Is usually brown, black, bluish, or blue-gray
  • Skin lumps
  • Skin lesion
  • Discolorations, lumps, or lesions
    • May be variable in size
    • May contain hair
    • May be smooth, flat, raised, or wrinkled

Exams and Tests

Diagnosis is usually made on the basis of the appearance of the skin area. A biopsy may be performed on a removed mole to look for cancerous changes.

Treatment

Treatment varies depending on the type of birthmark and associated conditions. Usually no treatment is required for the birthmark itself.

Large or prominent nevi that affect the appearance and self-esteem may be covered with special cosmetics.

Moles may be removed surgically if they affect the appearance or if they have an increased cancer

Support Groups

The Nevus Outreach (www.nevus.org) provides support for patients with large birthmarks.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Congenital nevi pose an increased cancer risk and should be examined.

Possible Complications

  • Skin cancer
  • Psychological effects, if the birthmark is prominent

When to Contact a Medical Professional

All birthmarks should be examined by a health care provider to determine the prognosis (probable outcome), course of action, and possible complications.

Call for an appointment with your provider if any change occurs in color, size, or texture of a nevus or other skin lesion.

Call for an appointment with your provider if there is development of pain, inflammation, ulceration, bleeding or itching of a congenital nevus or other skin lesion, or if you have questions or concerns.

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent birthmarks. It may be advisable for a person with birthmarks to use a good quality sunscreen when outdoors (to prevent complications).

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