Ask the Dermatologists
My doctor removed a mole so that it could be biopsied.  The biopsy report read "atypical mole." What does that mean?

Some moles can turn into melanoma. The reason for removing your mole and examining it under a microscope (a biopsy) is that the mole showed some of the warning signs of melanoma:

ABCDEs of Melanoma Detection

ABCDE is an acronym used to help people remember the key characteristics of melanoma detection. A = asymmetry, B = border irregularity, C = color within varies, D = diameter, and E = evolving.
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.


Asymmetrical. Half of the mole looked different from the other.



Border Irregular. The edge (border) of the mole appeared ragged, notched, or blurred.



Color. The mole had a variety of hues and colors within it.



Diameter. The mole may have been greater than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser) in diameter. That is not to say that melanoma cannot be smaller. Any mole that differs from the others, changes, itches, or bleeds — even if it is smaller than 6 millimeters — should be looked at by a dermatologist.




Evolving. A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.

The diagnosis of an “atypical mole” means that while the mole had some of these warning signs, it is NOT a melanoma or any other form of cancer.

Increased Risk of Melanoma
Having an atypical mole, however, does increase the risk of developing melanoma. A person with 1 to 4 atypical moles who does not have a personal or family history of melanoma has a slightly higher risk than the general population. If you have a personal or family history of melanoma, the risk increases significantly. And if you have many moles, some of them atypical, you may have Familial Atypical Mole and Melanoma Syndrome (FAMM). FAMM is diagnosed when a patient has the following:

  • A first-degree (e.g., parent, sibling, or child) or second-degree (e.g., grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle) relative who developed melanoma.

  • A large number of moles, usually more than 50. Some of moles are atypical, meaning they have one or more of the ABCD warning signs.

  • When examined under a microscope, an atypical mole reveals certain microscopic features.

People diagnosed with FAMM have a lifetime risk of developing melanoma that can be as high as 100%.

Follow-up Appointments Vital
Everyone who receives an “atypical mole” diagnosis should be under a dermatologist’s care. Be sure to keep all follow-up appointments. You also should protect your skin from the sun, never use a tanning bed or other artificial tanning device that emits UV light, and learn how to perform a skin self-exam. Performed regularly, self-exams help to catch skin cancer in the earliest and most treatable form. With early detection, even melanoma averages a 95% cure rate.

All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology

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Page last updated 11/6/09

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