Moles are spots on the skin where pigmented cells have clustered together. They typically appear as light to dark brown spots on the skin that are either flat or raised. Most people have benign moles, which are harmless.
Moles that become atypical are called dysplastic nevi. They may eventually become
melanoma. Melanoma is a form of skin cancer.
Moles develop from pigment-producing cells in the skin called melanocytes. Normally, these cells are evenly distributed in your skin. When you have a mole, these cells have formed a cluster.
Factors that may increase your chance of developing moles:
Most people have some benign moles that appear at birth, childhood, or adolescence. Most adults have 10-40 moles.
Benign moles, which can appear anywhere on the body, are usually:
Signs that a mole may be atypical include:
If you are concerned about a mole because it looks different from the others, or you are over age 30 and notice a new mole, call your doctor. Also, call your doctor if you notice any signs that an existing mole may be atypical.
Your skin will be examined. You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history.
Your bodily tissues may be tested. This can be done with a
to remove all or part of the mole to be tested for cancer cells.
Benign moles do not need to be treated. However, surgery may be done to remove those that are unsightly or irritated.
Treatment for atypical moles includes monitoring or removal. Atypical moles that are cancerous or suspected of being cancerous can be
removed. The mole tissue is examined under a microscope. If cancer cells are found, more surgery is done to remove any remaining portion of the mole and surrounding tissue.
To help prevent benign moles from becoming atypical and possibly cancerous:
To detect atypical or cancerous moles early:
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 April 11, 2016. Accessed September 28, 2016.
Common Moles, Dysplastic Nevi, and Risk of Melanoma. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
Updated November 1, 2011.
Accessed May 10, 2016.
Dysplastic nevus. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114418/Dysplastic-nevus. Updated March 11, 2016. Accessed September 28, 2016.
Moles. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at:
Accessed May 10, 2016.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media-resources/stats-and-facts/prevention-and-care/sunscreens. Accessed May 10, 2016.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
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