Common Moles, Dysplastic Nevi, and the Risk of Melanoma

What is a common mole?

Common moles are skin growths that occur when pigment cells (melanocytes), grow in large clusters. Common moles can be found in most adults, between 10-40. These moles are most commonly found above the waist in areas that are exposed to the sun. They are rarely found on the scalp or breasts, but they can be found in the buttocks.

Common moles can be present at birth but they often appear later in life. Most people develop new moles after age 40. Common moles fade in older people.

A mole can also be called a nevus. The plural of nevi is nevus.

Can a common mole turn into melanoma?

Yes, but the most severe form of skin cancer is melanoma. Common moles aren’t cancerous but people with more than 50 moles have a higher chance of developing melanoma.

If you notice any of these changes in common moles, it is important to inform your doctor:

  • The color can change.
  • The mole becomes unevenly smaller or larger (unlike normal moles that are bigger in children).
  • The shape, texture and height of the mole can change.
  • The skin becomes dry or scaly on the surface.
  • The mole feels hardened or lumpy.
  • It begins to itch.
  • It oozes or bleeds.

What is a dysplastic nevus?

Dysplastic nevus refers to a mole that is different from the normal mole. A dysplastic mole is a type of mole that looks different from a normal one. Some doctors refer to it as an “atypical” mole. Dysplastic nevus can be larger than a normal mole and may have a different color, border, and surface. It can be more than 5 mm wide (1, 3, 4). Dysplastic nevus may be mixed with a variety of colors, including pink and dark brown. It is usually flat and has a smooth, slightly scaly or pebbly top. The edge may fade into the skin around it. Here are some examples of dysplastic skin nevi.

Dysplastic nevus can occur anywhere on the body. However, it is most common to be seen on areas that are exposed to the sun like the back. Dysplastic nevus can also be found in other areas, such as the scalp and breasts. Some people only have a few dysplastic nevi while others have many. Dysplastic nevi patients often have more common moles than those without it.

What can people do if they have dysplastic nevus symptoms?

Protect your skin from the sun, and stay away from tanning booths and sunlamps. However, people with dysplastic nevi should be extra careful to avoid sunburns or getting sunburns. Many doctors also recommend that patients with dysplastic nevi inspect their skin at least once per month. If you notice any of these changes in your dysplastic nevus, please inform your doctor.

  • The color can change.
  • It can get smaller or larger.
  • It can change in form, texture, and height.
  • The skin becomes dry or scaly on the surface.
  • It can feel hard or lumpy.
  • It begins to itch.
  • It oozes or bleeds.

A doctor should also examine the skin of people suffering from dysplastic nevi. People or their doctors may take photos of dysplastic nevi to make it easier to see how they change over time. Due to the slightly higher chance of developing melanoma, doctors might conduct a skin examination once or twice per year for people with multiple (more than five) dysplastic nugi. Doctors may recommend a more frequent skin examination for people with melanoma history, such as every 3 to 6-months.

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