Atypical Moles: How to Recognize
Dermatologists refer to
atypical moles as “dysplastic nevi.”
Dysplastic – Alteration in the size, shape, and
organization of cells
Nevus (pl. nevi) – Mole
Moles are labeled atypical, or dysplastic, due to size, shape, or
color. Dysplastic nevi are usually larger than common moles, have
indistinct borders (or a fried-egg appearance with distinct
borders), and range in color from tan to dark brown. Such moles
usually begin to appear on the skin around age 5.
Dysplastic nevi also indicate an increased risk for developing
melanoma, and this risk increases when:
There is a family history of melanoma
Numerous dysplastic nevi are present
The skin is light-colored and heavily
freckled due to excessive sun exposure
Following are photos of patients with
atypical moles. These photos also illustrate the “ABCDEs of Melanoma
Detection,” which are:
A – Asymmetrical. Dysplastic nevi tend to be asymmetrical. If
the lesion were folded in half, the two parts would not match.
B – Border irregular. The borders tend to be poorly defined
or have a fried-egg appearance.
C – Color varies. An atypical nevus tends to have more than
one visible color.
D – Diameter. While melanomas are usually greater than 6
millimeters (size of a pencil eraser) in diameter when diagnosed,
they can be smaller. If you notice a mole different from others, or
which changes, itches, or bleeds even if it is smaller than 6
millimeters, you should see a dermatologist.
E - Evolving. A mole or skin lesion that looks different from
the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.
If you have a mole that has any of the ABCDE characteristics or looks
like any of those shown in these photos, it is probably a dysplastic
nevus and should be examined by a dermatologist.
This patient has several
dysplastic nevi on his back. These moles are larger than
up of a dysplastic
nevus that appears next to
a patient’s navel. Notice the size
and color variance.
on a patient’s back.
close-up of several
dysplastic nevi. Notice the indistinct borders.
with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology
National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides)
content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology