Dysplastic nevi, known as atypical moles, are growths on the skin. Atypical moles are skin cells (melanocytes) that grow in a cluster instead of being spread throughout the skin. Moles, including atypical moles, appear in childhood either alone or in groups. Atypical moles look different than normal moles. While most atypical moles don’t become cancerous, it’s important to know the difference between an atypical mole and skin cancer (melanoma).
What do dysplastic nevi (atypical moles) look like?
Atypical moles may look different from regular moles in these ways:
- Often larger than ¼ inch
- Tan, brown, red or pink in color
- Have irregular borders or may fade into surrounding skin
- Texture may be smooth, rough, irregular or pebbly
What are the causes of dysplastic nevi (atypical moles)?
Having atypical moles can be genetically passed down from parent to child or caused by sun exposure.
How are dysplastic nevi (atypical moles) diagnosed?
Moles are usually diagnosed by your doctor or a dermatologist (skin specialist) with the naked eye or a dermatoscopy (microscopic lens to see the skin closely).
To spot the differences between a normal atypical mole and skin cancer use the ABCDE method. The mole might be cancerous if it’s:
- Asymmetrical (newly uneven)
- Border (newly irregular)
- Color (multiple colors)
- Diameter (moles greater than ¼ inch are more likely to become cancerous)
- Evolution (changes in mole)
If you find a new atypical mole or see a change in an existing atypical mole, tell your doctor or dermatologist.
How are dysplastic nevi (atypical moles) treated?
Atypical moles that are non-cancerous may simply be watched for changes. If your doctor or dermatologist suspects it could be cancerous, they may take a biopsy (removing a tiny piece of tissue for examination). If it’s cancerous, it’ll be surgically removed. Further treatment would depend on a variety of factors.