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 your doctor recommends it.
American Academy of Dermatology
American Cancer Society
Canadian Dermatology Association
Moles. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at:
Accessed June 4, 2015.
Common Moles, Dysplastic Nevi, and Risk of Melanoma. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
Updated November 1, 2011.
Accessed June 4, 2015.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media-resources/stats-and-facts/prevention-and-care/sunscreens. Accessed June 4, 2015.
Last reviewed June 2015 by Fabienne Daguilh, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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