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Birthmarks - pigmented

 

Definition

A birthmark is a skin marking that is present at birth. 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 may occur in people with the genetic disorder, neurofibromatosis.

Nearly everyone has moles, which usually appear after birth.

Mongolian spots are more commonly seen in darker-skinned populations.

Symptoms

Each type of birthmark has its own appearance:

  • Cafe-au-lait spots are light tan, the color of coffee with milk.
  • Moles are small clusters of colored skin cells.
  • Mongolian spots (also called Mongolian blue spots) are usually bluish or bruised-looking. They usually appear over the lower back or buttocks, but can also appear in other areas, including the trunk or arms.

Other symptoms of birthmarks:

Signs and tests

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

Support Groups

Nevus Outreach -- www.nevus.org

Expectations (prognosis)

Large moles that are 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. The cancer risk is related to the size, location, shape, and color of the mole.

Mongolian spots may persist for months or years. They do NOT become cancer or develop other symptoms.

Calling your health care provider

Have any birthmarks examined by a health care provider. Report any changes in the birthmark to your health care provider, including:

  • Bleeding
  • Color change
  • Inflammation
  • Itching
  • Open sore (ulceration)
  • Pain
  • Size change
  • Texture change
Complications
  • Skin cancer
  • Psychological effects, if the birthmark is prominent
Treatments

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

Large birthmarks that affect your appearance and self-esteem may be covered with special cosmetics.

Moles may be removed surgically if they affect your appearance or have an increased cancer risk. Discuss your options with your doctor to decide how and when to remove any moles.

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent birthmarks. A person with birthmarks should use a good quality sunscreen when outdoors (to prevent complications).


Review Date: 6/4/2009
Reviewed By: A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Greg Juhn, MTPW, David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network (10/11/2008).
A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).
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