Prevention and Wellness|Staying Healthy
Dermatologic|moles|skin cancer

Atypical Moles

Last Updated October 2023 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Leisa Bailey, MD

Atypical moles (dysplastic nevi) are skin growths. They are benign (not cancerous). However, they look like a type of skin cancer called melanoma. Atypical moles are usually bigger than 6 mm wide (about the size of a pencil eraser). They have an irregular shape and borders that are not well-defined and can fade into the skin. Atypical moles can be more than 2 colors. These colors are often different shades of brown.

Moles are common. Most people have between 10 and 40 moles. New moles can appear. However, they usually stop after the age of 40 and eventually fade.

Path to improved well being

Protect your skin from the sun. If you spend time outdoors, avoid peak sun. Try to stay out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the sun is strongest. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Use sunscreen that is SPF 15 or higher. Reapply it every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating. You can also wear protective clothing (for example, long sleeves and long pants). Never use a tanning bed.

Things to consider

People who have a lot of atypical moles have a higher risk of developing melanoma. This is especially true if they also have family members who have had melanoma.

An atypical mole can become cancerous. If you have an atypical mole, have your doctor examine it. He or she may remove the mole or have it checked for melanoma or other types of skin cancer. Most atypical moles do not need to be removed.

Watch your skin for new moles or any changes in your moles. If you have a mole that bleeds or itches, tell your doctor right away. Also tell your doctor if a mole changes in size, shape, or color, or becomes scaly or crusty.

See your doctor regularly for skin checks. Your doctor should examine your skin at least once a year.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How often do you need to check my atypical mole?
  • Can I prevent more moles from forming?
  • Is itching the only way to know if my atypical mole is changing?
  • Can you remove the mole even though it poses no health risk?


National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: Moles

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