Spitz naevus

Spitz naevus is a rare type of mole. It is not cancer.

What Spitz naevus is

You should see your GP if you notice a change in your skin that isn't normal for you.

Your GP might arrange for you to see a skin specialist called a dermatologist. Your GP or skin specialist is likely to look at your mole using a dermatoscope. A dermatoscope is a handheld instrument, a bit like a magnifying glass. It can make things bigger (magnify) by up to 10 times.

Looking at a mole with a dermatoscope can help doctors decide if a mole needs to be removed.

Spitz naevus occurs mainly in children and young adults. It is a rare type of mole that might look worrying, but is benign (non cancerous). This means that, unlike a cancer, there's no chance of it spreading to anywhere else in the body.

Spitz naevus used to be called juvenile melanoma, but it's not really accurate to call it this. Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. It develops from skin cells called melanocytes. Melanoma can occur in children, but it is extremely rare.

Removing a Spitz naevus

Unfortunately, in a small number of cases, Spitz naevi can look so much like melanoma that it can be almost impossible even for an expert to tell the difference. If it is impossible to tell if you have a Spitz naevus or a melanoma, your specialist will recommend the lesion is sent for a second opinion.

Because of this, doctors often remove a Spitz naevus together with a border of healthy tissue around it. This is so that a specialist can examine the whole of it under a microscope in a laboratory.

Risk factors for melanoma

We can’t say what your individual risk of getting a melanoma or another suspicious mole is likely to be. Certain people are more at risk of developing melanoma. 

These are people who:

  • are fair skinned and blue eyed
  • have lots of freckles
  • have lots of moles (more than 100)
  • tend to burn easily in the sun

You're also more at risk of melanoma if either of your parents has had melanoma.

If you are concerned about your risk, then speak to your GP. 

Any type of cancer is rare in children.

Staying safe in the sun

Our advice to everyone, children and adults, is to cover up and stay in the shade. If you must go into the sun, wear a high factor sunscreen - such as SPF 30. And make sure you put enough on, as most of us don’t wear enough sunscreen to give the full protection claimed by the manufacturers.

For an adult, you need about 7 teaspoonfuls to cover yourself completely. Obviously, this is only a rough guide. If you're in the sun for a few hours each day, you should be getting through a regular sized bottle every couple of weeks.

It is also important to reapply sunscreen regularly and to reapply after you have been swimming.

  • Melanoma: Assessment and Management

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2015

  • Spitz nevus and atypical Spitz tumors

    UpToDate, Accessed February 2020

  • Cancer, Principles and Practice of Oncology (11th edition)

    VT Devita, SA Rosenberg and TS Lawrence

    Wolters Kluwer, 2019

  • Estimating the attributable fraction for melanoma: a meta-analysis of pigmentary characteristics and freckling

    CM Olsen, HJ Carroll and DC Whiteman

    International Journal of Cancer, 2010. Issue 127, Volume 10

  • Meta-analysis of risk factors for cutaneous melanoma: I. Common and atypical naevi

    S Gandini and others

    European Journal of Cancer, 2005. Volume 41

  •  Familial melanoma: a meta-analysis and estimates of attributable fraction

    CM Olsen, HJ Carroll and DC Whiteman

    Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, 2010. Volume 19

Last reviewed: 
18 Feb 2020

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