Atypical mole


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What is an atypical mole?

Atypical moles are unusual-looking benign (noncancerous) moles, also known as dysplastic nevi (the plural of “nevus,” or mole).

Atypical moles may resemble melanoma, and people who have them are at increased risk of developing melanoma in a mole or elsewhere on the body. The higher the number of these moles someone has, the higher the risk. Those who have 10 or more have 12 times the risk of developing melanoma compared with the general population.

How common is an atypical mole?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of an atypical mole?

Atypical moles are seen most commonly on the back but may be anywhere on the body, including below the waist, on the scalp, or on the breasts or buttocks. They may fade into surrounding skin and include a flat portion that is level with the skin surface. They may be smooth, slightly scaly, or have a rough, irregular, “pebbly” appearance.

Atypical moles may resemble melanoma, and people who have them are at increased risk of developing melanoma in a mole or elsewhere on the body. The higher the number of these moles someone has, the higher the risk. Those who have 10 or more have 12 times the risk of developing melanoma compared with the general population.

Physicians can often identify an atypical mole by the same classic “ABCDE” characteristics used to identify a possible melanoma:

Asymmetry: Unlike common moles, atypical moles are often asymmetrical: A line drawn through the middle would not create matching halves.

Border: While common moles usually have regular, sharp, well-defined borders, the borders of atypical moles tend to be irregular and/or hazy — the mole gradually fades into the surrounding skin.

Color: Common moles are most often uniformly tan, brown or flesh-colored, but atypical moles have varied, irregular color with subtle, haphazard areas of tan, brown, dark brown, red, blue or black.

Diameter: Atypical moles are generally larger than 6 mm (¼ inch), the size of a pencil eraser, but may be smaller.

Evolution: Enlargement of or any other notable change in a previously stable mole, or the appearance of a new mole after age 40, should raise suspicion.

Other factors besides the ABCDEs may also indicate an atypical mole:

Surface: Central portion often is raised, whereas the peripheral portions are usually flat, sometimes with tiny “pebbly” elevations.

Varying Appearance: Atypical moles can be greatly varied, often looking different from one another.

Certain factors can be clear warning signs that an atypical mole is actually a melanoma or in danger of becoming a melanoma. These include:

  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Elevation
  • Bleeding
  • Crusting
  • Swelling
  • Oozing
  • Ulceration
  • Bluish-black color
  • Other features that may go right up to the edges of the mole

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes an atypical mole?

The skin cells that produce pigment (melanocytes) sometimes group together to form moles.

Melanocytes can form abnormal moles, also called atypical moles or dysplastic nevi.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for an atypical mole?

Many atypical moles are caused by sun exposure. Heredity appears to play a part in the formation of atypical moles. They tend to run in families, especially in Caucasians; about 2 to 8 percent of Caucasians have these moles.

If you have atypical moles as well as any of these other common risk factors for melanoma, you must be particularly vigilant:

  • Light eyes, hair and/or skin
  • Freckles
  • Many moles
  • A personal or family history of melanoma or nonmelanoma skin cancer
  • Sun sensitivity
  • Inability to tan
  • Repeated and intermittent sunburns
  • A very large mole presents at birth

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is an atypical mole diagnosed?

Normal moles are common small brown spots or growths on the skin that appear in the first few decades of life in almost everyone. They can be either flat or elevated and are generally round and regularly shaped. Many are caused by sun exposure.

Melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, most often appears as an asymmetrical, irregularly bordered, multicolored or tan/brown spot or growth that continues to increase in size over time. It may begin as a flat spot and become more elevated. In rare instances, it may be amelanotic, meaning it does not have any of the skin pigment (melanin) that typically turns a mole or melanoma brown, black or other dark colors. In these cases, it may be pink, red, normal skin color or other colors, making it harder to recognize as a melanoma.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between an atypical mole and an early melanoma. (Some melanomas begin within an atypical mole.) The degree of atypical features in the mole can determine whether it is harmless, or at moderate or high risk of becoming a melanoma. Many physicians examine such moles with a dermoscope, a handheld magnifying device that allows visualization of internal skin structures and colors not seen by the naked eye. The doctor may also opt to remove the entire mole or a portion of it for examination in a lab.

How is an atypical mole treated?

If your doctor identifies your moles as atypical, or if new moles appear after age 40, you may need a biopsy of one or more. This means the doctor removes all or part of the mole for examination under a microscope.

Some physicians, in fact, believe that almost all atypical moles pose a risk of turning into melanoma and should be removed (excised completely), but others believe in removing only those at high risk of becoming melanoma. Either way, regular monitoring is crucial if you have atypical moles, so that if one does develop into a melanoma, it can be detected and treated as early as possible.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage an atypical mole?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with an atypical mole:

  • Practice rigorous daily sun protection
  • Perform a monthly skin self-examination head to toe
  • Seek regular professional skin exams

Anyone, especially someone with an increased risk of developing melanoma, should:

  • Examine the skin completely each month, using a full-length mirror and a handheld mirror, plus a good light source to help you see each area. Ask a family member or friend to look at your back and other parts of the body that are hard to see yourself. A hair dryer is useful when checking the scalp. Don’t forget the bottom of the feet and between the toes.
  • Seek prompt medical attention if you find any of the warning signs of melanoma. Show your doctor any moles in which you’ve noticed suspicious signs, symptoms or changes. Schedule a head-to-toe skin examination by a physician annually — or more often if moles are changing.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: October 25, 2017 | Last Modified: October 26, 2017

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