Covid-19 Information
Atypical Moles & Melanoma Risk Factors

Atypical Moles & Melanoma Risk Factors

Dysplastic Nevi & Melanoma

Dysplastic nevi, commonly referred to as dysplastic moles or atypical moles, are often described as being on the continuum between common moles and melanoma because they intermediate between these two dermatologic entities. Atypical moles are benign pigmented lesions — although they are benign, they exhibit a number of clinic features characteristic of malignant melanomas.

While the majority of atypical moles pose no risk to patients’ health and wellbeing, proper screening and early diagnosis are among the most important steps for detecting and effectively treating skin cancer. For the treatment of moles and a wide range of Gainesville dermatology needs, contact Gainesville Dermatology & Skin Surgery.

Common Moles Vs. Dysplastic Nevi

A common mole is a skin growth that develops when melanocytes (pigment cells) grow in clusters. The average young adult has approximately 10-40 moles on their body. Common moles are symmetrical, round or oval in shape; usually tan, brown, or skin color; and one-quarter inch in diameter (approximately the size of a pencil eraser).

These moles have regular, sharp, and well-defined borders and are uniform in appearance. The location of common moles is often concentrated on sun-exposed areas, such as the face, torso, arms, and legs. Individuals with numerous moles are at an increased risk of developing melanoma.

Dysplastic Nevus Vs. Melanoma

To the naked eye, it can be difficult to determine the difference between a dysplastic nevus and a melanoma. Patients with dysplastic nevi are advised to consult a dermatologist if a mole changes in size, shape, and/or color, or if a new mole appears after the age of 40. Depending on the findings, the mole may require removal. While it is not certain that an atypical mole will develop into melanoma, it isn’t rare for melanoma to develop within an atypical mole.

Dysplastic nevi are typically asymmetrical; have irregular or poorly defined borders; exist in a variety of shades of tan, brown, black, or multiple colors; are typically larger than one-quarter inch; appear different from other moles on the body; and may be an enlargement of a previously stable mole or appear after the age of 40. Atypical moles commonly occur on the back, chest, abdomen, extremities, and the scalp, however, atypical moles may appear anywhere on the body.

Can An Atypical Mole Turn Into Melanoma?

Yes — but most dysplastic nevi do not turn into melanoma. Most types of atypical moles remain stable over time. Patients with five or more dysplastic nevi are 10 times more likely to develop melanoma than individuals with no atypical moles. The greater the number of dysplastic nevi on the body, the more likely the development of melanoma. The risk of melanoma is greatest in patients with extremely fair skin as well as significant freckling on the body — a common sign of excessive, unprotected exposure to the sun over time.

Dysplastic Nevus Syndrome (DNS)

Dysplastic nevus syndrome (DNS), or familial atypical multiple mole melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome, is an inherited condition which produces a high number of atypical moles on the body. Individuals with this condition have an increasingly high risk of developing melanoma throughout their lifetime, and as such, they require regular screenings from a dermatologist in Gainesville. During screenings of atypical moles, full-body photographs may also be taken to help establish any developments, changes, or growth of atypical moles. Patients with DNS are also advised to perform self-examinations during the time in between dermatology appointments.

Should Dysplastic Nevi Be Removed?

Atypical moles are considered to be precancerous as they are more likely than regular moles to turn into melanoma. However, not every person who has atypical moles will develop melanoma. In fact, most moles — both ordinary and atypical — never become cancerous. As such, mole removal through dermatology surgery for all dysplastic nevi is unnecessary. In a significant number of cases, patients who have atypical moles develop melanoma from normal skin. However, professional screening and monitoring of all types of moles, including dysplastic nevi, is key for detection and effective treatment of cancerous moles during the early stages.

What Factors Increase The Chance Of Melanoma?

Melanoma typically results from a combination of genetic, environmental, and host factors. The most prevalent environmental risk factor for melanoma is ultraviolet (UV) radiation due to unprotected exposure to the sun, due to tanning, lifetime sun exposure, or severe sunburns. A high number of dysplastic nevi is a significant host risk factor. Additional host factors include increased freckling; poor tanning ability; fair complexion; light hair and eye color; and family history of melanoma. The best way to prevent melanoma is to limit exposure to sunlight and to implement a proper routine with regard to sun care. For more information about sun protection, contact our office today to speak with a Gainesville dermatologist.

What To Do If You Have A Dysplastic Nevus

Individuals both with and without dysplastic nevi should protect their skin from the sun and avoid any use of tanning booths and sunlamps. Effective sun protection and UV protection are even more important for those with dysplastic nevi. Patients with one or more dysplastic nevus should make appointments for regular screening by dermatologists in Gainesville at Gainesville Dermatology & Skin Surgery. Patients with a family history of melanoma and those with more than five dysplastic nevi are advised to schedule a skin exam every few months. If patients with dysplastic nevi observe changes in color, size, shape, texture or height or if the nevus develops a dry or scaly topical layer of skin; hard tissue or lumps; an itchy or irritated feeling; or if the mole bleeds or oozes, they are advised to promptly call our office for skin cancer screening.