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Atypical Moles: Definition, Treatment, and Prevention

A mole (or nevi) is a dense collection of skin cells called melanocytes that have grouped together instead of spreading out. This type of cell is what gives your skin its color.
A girl pointing at the atypical mole on her cheek

Because moles are made up of melanin-producing cells, exposure to sunlight or hormonal fluctuations can cause them to darken. Some moles develop into an atypical mole and may require medical attention. 

What is an atypical mole? 

An atypical mole or dysplastic mole is one that looks unusual. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, atypical moles are very common and about 1 in 10 Americans have at least one of these moles.

Moles are small brown spots that appear on your skin alone or in groups. They are round and can be flat or slightly raised. An atypical mole may be larger than other moles, irregularly shaped, or it may have indistinct edges.

If you have an atypical mole, be sure to tell your doctor. When you go in for a checkup, your doctor will look at your skin and note any moles that look unusual. They may use a special eyepiece to see them easier, mark them on a body chart, or photograph certain ones that they want to follow.​

You may even be referred to a dermatologist for additional evaluation. 

Atypical mole treatment 

Most moles never develop into anything other than a round brown spot that appears on your skin and requires no medical attention.

Atypical moles require examination and follow-up. If your physician finds one, it will need to be examined each year, and you will be advised to let them know if it changes in any way. This is due to the fact that some moles can change in size, color, and shape.

Many times, when there are changes in a mole, your physician will recommend that it be removed. A sample of the atypical mole cells will be sent for analysis to determine if it is benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). 

When this tissue sample (biopsy) is received by the laboratory, it is examined under a microscope. These atypical moles are examined for any unusual features, and they are graded as mild, moderate, or severe. 

If the biopsy shows a mildly or moderately atypical mole, and it has been completely removed, no further treatment is needed. Moles that are severely atypical under the microscope may need a slightly wider surgery to ensure that they do not grow back. Your doctor might recommend periodic total body skin examinations to monitor your moles.

A physician examines an atypical mole on a patient's skin

Atypical mole symptoms and signs 

It’s important to be aware of when a mole becomes atypical. Characteristics to watch for can easily be remembered by using the abbreviation ABCDE.

ABCDE characteristics

The characteristics of atypical moles include the following:

A. Asymmetry

A normal mole appears the same across the entire mole. An asymmetric mole has an irregular portion, where one part of the mole does not match the rest of it.

B. Border

The atypical mole’s border or edges of the mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular.

C. Color

A normal mole will be brown. The color of an atypical mole is not the same throughout or has shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red.

D. Diameter  

Atypical moles are generally larger than 6 mm (¼ inch), the size of a pencil eraser, but may be smaller.

E. Evolution 

An atypical mole may evolve over time. It may change in size, shape, elevation, or color. The mole may begin to cause pain, swelling, bleeding, itching, oozing, or crusting?

If you remember the ABCDE rule, you can be aware of any changes in moles on your body. Checking your moles for changes should be done each month, the same as breast self-exams. If you do find any changes, document what you see and report it to your doctor.

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Atypical mole syndrome

Atypical mole syndrome is a condition the effects a small percentage of people (about 2 percent) and is characterized by having more than 50 individual moles on the body, with at least three of them classified as atypical moles. 

Multiple atypical moles (atypical mole syndrome) makes a person at a greater risk of developing melanoma (skin cancer) than the general population. This is especially true if the atypical mole is found on the buttocks, scalp, or feet.

This condition is hereditary, so if someone in your immediate family has been diagnosed with malignant melanoma, your risk is increased. 

Atypical mole removal procedure

The process to remove a mole is fairly simple and can be done in a medical office, clinic, or other outpatient centers. The removal of an atypical mole is usually done in one of two ways. For any mole removal, the area is first numbed. If it is a small mole, the mole and a small amount of tissue can be shaved off with a scalpel, usually with no stitches. 

If the mole is larger or irregular in shape, the doctor will need to remove the mole and a small amount of healthy tissue from around it. This procedure usually requires at least one stitch to close the area. 

Atypical mole prevention

The best prevention for atypical moles is to protect your skin from overexposure to UV rays. This can be done by applying sunscreen before you go outside and reapplying it frequently, especially after swimming or exercise. You can also wear protective clothing to prevent sun exposure. An annual skin exam can identify any atypical moles.

https://www.aocd.org/page/AtypicalMoles

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/2588561

http://www.bad.org.uk/shared/get-file.ashx?id=152&itemtype=document

https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs

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