What is an Atypical Mole?

M.C. Huguelet

An atypical mole, also known as a dysplastic nevi, is a mole which has irregular characteristics, such as a very uneven border or large size. While atypical moles are benign, or non-cancerous, many doctors believe that there is a link between these unusual moles and the development of the sometimes-deadly cancerous growth called melanoma. Learning to identify a potentially atypical mole, seeking prompt medical analysis of unusual growths, and using protective skincare tactics can reduce one’s risk of developing skin cancer.

Most people have several moles, and most are harmless.
Most people have several moles, and most are harmless.

Almost everyone has several moles. Usually, these moles are normal in appearance, meaning they are characterized by a small diameter, a symmetrical shape, a regular border, and a consistent color. While researchers do not yet fully understand what causes moles to form, normal ones are harmless.

Atypical moles may be large in size.
Atypical moles may be large in size.

Sometimes, an individual may develop an atypical mole. This type of mole has one or more irregular characteristics, which can include a diameter measuring 0.25 inches (0.64 cm) or more, an asymmetrical shape, an irregular border, an inconsistent coloration, and an uneven surface elevation. While an atypical mole is benign, it can closely resemble a melanoma. Therefore, if a dermatologist locates an atypical mole, she may wish to remove it for analysis to ensure that it is not actually a melanoma. This procedure is known as a biopsy.

Even should a dermatologist determine that an individual’s irregular moles are atypical rather than cancerous, many doctors believe that there may be a link between atypical moles and the development of melanoma. While atypical moles themselves do not usually become cancerous, those with an atypical mole may be at a heightened risk for developing melanoma at some point in their lives. This risk seems to be significantly increased for those who have more than four atypical moles, have a personal or family history of melanoma, or both.

Skin cancer survival rates are highest among those whose cancer is detected early. Therefore, it can be extremely useful to check one’s skin several times each year, taking note of new or changed growths. Those who suspect either an atypical mole or a melanoma should consult a dermatologist for prompt evaluation and, if necessary, treatment. Individuals who have been diagnosed with one or more atypical moles should use protective skincare tactics to minimize their risk of developing skin cancer. They should wear sunscreen every day, avoid sitting in direct sunlight, especially in the middle of the day, and avoid using tanning salons.

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