Moles are spots on the skin where pigmented cells have clustered together. They typically appear as light to dark brown spots on the skin. They can be flat or raised. Most people have benign moles, which are harmless.
Dysplastic nevi are atypical moles. They can eventually turn into a type of skin cancer called melanoma.
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Moles develop from cells in the skin called melanocytes. Normally, these cells are evenly spread out in your skin. When you have a mole, these cells have formed a cluster.
Your chances of moles are higher if you have:
- Moles that exist at birth
- Family members with moles
- Been exposed to a lot of sunlight—can happen with a sunburn
Most people have some benign moles that appear at birth through adolescence. Most adults have 10-40 moles.
Benign moles can appear anywhere on the body. They look:
- Light to dark brown, but can also be yellow-brown or flesh tone
- One color
- Round or oval with distinct edges
- Flat and smooth—sometimes they may become be raised, rough, or grow hair
Signs that a mole may be atypical include:
- Sudden change in size, color, shape, texture, or how they feel
- Large size—¼ inch or more across, about the size of an eraser at the end of a pencil
- A mixture of colors, often including black
- Irregular edges
Abnormal surface that is:
- Open with a sore that will not heal
- Hard with a raised lump
- Itchy, tender, or painful
- Abnormally colored skin around it
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When Should I Call My Doctor?
Call your doctor if you:
- Are worried because a mole doesn’t look the same as others
- Are over 30 years old and notice a new mole
- Notice any of your moles show signs of being atypical
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You may have a:
- Physical exam
- Skin exam
- Biopsy to test the skin for a cause such as cancer
Benign moles do not need to be treated. Surgery removes unsightly or irritated moles
Care for atypical moles includes watching it for changes or removing it. Atypical moles that are cancerous or suspected of being so can be removed. The mole tissue is examined under a microscope. You may need more surgery to remove the rest of the mole and any healthy tissue around it.
To lower your chances of moles becoming atypical or cancerous:
- Avoid spending too much time in the sun.
- Protect your skin from the sun. For example, wear a shirt, wide brim hat, and sunglasses.
- Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
- Don't use tanning booths.
To detect atypical or cancerous moles early:
- Monitor your moles, especially atypical ones.
- Report any changes in a mole to your doctor.
Have your doctor check and monitor atypical moles on a regular basis. Have moles checked more often if you have:
- A large number of moles
- A family or personal history of atypical moles or melanoma
Have moles removed if advised by your doctor.
American Academy of Dermatology
American Cancer Society
Canadian Dermatology Association
Common benign skin lesions. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T908545/Common-benign-skin-lesions. Updated February 5, 2018. Accessed June 20, 2018.
Common moles, dysplastic nevi, and risk of melanoma. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/moles-fact-sheet. Updated April 27, 2018. Accessed June 20, 2018.
Dysplastic nevus. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114418/Dysplastic-nevus. Updated March 11, 2016. Accessed June 20, 2018.
Moles. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/bumps-and-growths/moles. Accessed June 20, 2018.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs. Accessed June 20, 2018.
Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcie L. Sidman, MD Last Updated: 6/20/2018