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What Is Congenital Melanocytic Nevus?

By Meshell Powell
Updated May 17, 2024
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A congenital melanocytic nevus is a type of birthmark composed of pigment cells that usually occurs on the head or neck, although it may develop on any area of the body. This birthmark can appear quite large and may even include excess hair, although this varies from person to person. In most cases, a congenital melanocytic nevus is removed for appearance reasons as well as to decrease the risks of developing certain forms of skin cancer. Any questions or concerns about a congenital melanocytic nevus or individualized treatment options should be discussed with a doctor or other medical professional.

In many cases, a congenital melanocytic nevus covers only a small area, although these darkened birthmarks may sometimes cover a large percentage of the body. The exact cause for the development of these birthmarks is not clearly understood, but they are generally believed to form in the embryonic stage of development. Overactive pigment cells gather together in various areas of the body. The skin is the most common location for the development of a a congenital melanocytic nevus, although this growth may affect any portion of the body, including the eyes, ears, or intestines.

In most cases, a congenital melanocytic nevus is small to medium in size and has an oval, multi-colored appearance. If left untreated, the nevus tends to grow with the child, often appearing smaller as the child gets older. Occasionally, the lesion may become darker and hairier around the time of adolescence.

The chances of the congenital melanocytic nevus becoming cancerous are quite small in the majority of situations. Larger nevi that cover a significant portion of the body may carry an increased risk of becoming malignant over time, especially with repeated sun exposure. For this reason, as well as for the sake of appearance, the birthmarks are frequently removed.

Removal of a congenital melanocytic nevus can be difficult or even impossible in some situations. Surgical removal leads to the creation of significant scarring and may not be practical, depending on the size and location of the lesion. Laser removal is a more common procedure but is not always successful. Due to the difficulty in removing these lesions, unless there are complications, many doctors will simply monitor the nevus for any noticeable changes. As each situation is different, anyone considering treatment for this type of birthmark should consult a doctor in order to create an individualized treatment plan.

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