A birthmark is a colored mark on or under the skin that is present at birth or develops shortly after birth. Some birthmarks fade with time, others become more pronounced. They are caused by extra pigment-producing cells in the skin or by blood vessels that do not grow normally. Most birthmarks are painless and harmless. In rare cases, they can cause complications or develop into melanoma. All birthmarks should be checked by a doctor. If they get bigger, change shape or color, become sore, itchy or start to bleed, you should also contact a doctor.
Types of birthmarks
Here are the different types of birthmarks:
Strawberry mark consists of blood vessels and is blue-red in color.
You can feel them if you stroke your finger over the skin as they stand out a little. They can disappear.
Port-wine stains are rare. They consist of blood vessels and are blue-red. They lie in the skin and usually do not go away. Laser treatment can help if the mark is troublesome.
Melanocytic nevus is a well-defined mark. They are round or oval and evenly colored or brown. The size varies but is usually max 5mm. If you stay in the sun a lot, you can get more of these kinds of birthmarks.
Dysplastic nevus is irregular. They have two or more colors on a color scale from pink to dark brown/black. The spots are larger than 5mm. It is important that you keep track of these types of birthmarks as they increase the risk of malignant melanoma.
Halo nevus is a birthmark consisting of pigments and surrounded by a round, lighter disc – or halo. They are benign and can fade and disappear completely.
Congenital nevus / congenital mole are spots you are born with or get during your first year. The spots get bigger as you grow. They stand out from the skin and hair can grow in them. The spots vary greatly in size, from a diameter of less than 1 cm to over 20 cm. You should check these types of birthmarks as they carry an increased risk of malignant melanoma.
Birthmarks are a kind of discoloration of the skin. The stains are caused by small blood vessels or pigment cells (that protect skin against UV radiation) gathered in a group under the skin.
Everyone has birthmarks. Some you get already at a few years of age – others come later. The number of birthmarks increases up to the age of 30. When women are pregnant, they get more spots. You can have 70 birthmarks – or more – with different shapes and colors throughout the body. As you get older you may get age spots, but these are not the same as birthmarks.
Malignant melanoma is a type of skin cancer. Melanoma can develop from both birthmarks and normal skin. The main cause of it is UV radiation, both from the sun and solarium.
To distinguish between birthmarks and melanomas, so-called ABCDE criteria can be used. They stand for:
A – Asymmetry
B – Border (irregular edges)
C – Color (change in color)
D – Diameter (increase in size greater than 6 mm)
E – Evolution
Birthmarks in children
Birthmarks in children and adolescents under the age of 18 rarely cause skin cancer.
Prevention and protection
You can reduce the risk of malignant melanoma by being careful in the sun and avoiding tanning. This is especially important if you have:
- light skin
- light or red hair
- have family members with malignant melanoma
- have several major birthmarks
- have had malignant melanoma in the past.
Protect your skin
When you are outside and it is sunny, make sure that your skin is protected. It doesn’t matter if you are on the beach, on the slopes or in town. Keep in mind that the sun can be aggressive even if it is cloudy. Take care of yourself by:
- Wearing a hat or cap
- Wearing sunglasses
- Using SPF cream
- Sitting in the shade
- Protecting your body by wearing clothing that covers the skin.
It is especially important to protect children and adolescents from the sun’s rays because they are more sensitive to radiation.
Diagnosis and treatment
If there is a suspicion of skin cancer, the entire birthmark will need to be removed. It is then analyzed under a microscope. If it turns out that it was melanoma, the entire tumor will be removed. You should get medical help as soon as possible.
When to consult a doctor
If you notice changes of skin and any of ABCDE criteria or have questions about one or more birthmarks, you should get medical help. Consult a doctor if a birthmark:
- gets inflamed
- begins to bleed or become sore
- is itching
- has an uneven edge that is inflamed
- has changed its shape or color
- is larger than six millimeters in diameter.
How APPOTEK can help
- Assessment of birthmarks or other skin changes
- Individual assessment and referral if needed.