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Dysplastic Nevi

Dysplastic Nevi

Dysplastic nevi, also known as atypical moles, are a unique type of mole that falls between common moles and melanoma on the spectrum of skin conditions. While they are benign, they exhibit characteristics similar to malignant melanomas. Although most atypical moles do not pose a health risk, it is crucial to undergo proper screening and early diagnosis to detect and treat skin cancer effectively. For all your mole-related concerns and Gainesville dermatology needs, contact The Art of Skin Dermatology 

Differentiating Common Moles and Dysplastic Nevi

Common moles are skin growths that occur when pigment cells called melanocytes cluster together. The average young adult has around 10-40 moles on their body. Common moles are symmetrical, round or oval in shape, usually tan, brown, or skin-colored, and about the size of a pencil eraser. They have well-defined borders, a uniform appearance, and are commonly found on sun-exposed areas like the face, torso, arms, and legs. Having numerous moles increases the risk of developing melanoma.

Dysplastic Nevus versus Melanoma

Distinguishing between a dysplastic nevus and melanoma can be challenging to the naked eye. If a mole changes in size, shape, color, or if a new mole appears after the age of 40, individuals with dysplastic nevi are advised to consult a dermatologist. Depending on the findings, the mole may need to be removed. While it is not certain that an atypical mole will develop into melanoma, it is not uncommon for melanoma to arise within an atypical mole. Dysplastic nevi are typically asymmetrical, have irregular borders, come in various shades, are larger than a quarter inch, differ from other moles on the body, and may appear after the age of 40. They commonly occur on the back, chest, abdomen, extremities, and scalp, but can appear anywhere on the body.

Can Atypical Moles Turn into Melanoma?

Yes, although most dysplastic nevi do not progress to melanoma. The majority of atypical moles remain stable over time. However, individuals with five or more dysplastic nevi are ten times more likely to develop melanoma compared to those without atypical moles. The risk of melanoma increases with the number of dysplastic nevi and is highest in individuals with fair skin and significant freckling, indicating prolonged sun exposure without protection.

Dysplastic Nevus Syndrome (DNS)

Dysplastic nevus syndrome, also known as familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome, is an inherited condition characterized by a high number of atypical moles. Individuals with this syndrome have an elevated lifetime risk of developing melanoma and require regular screenings from a dermatologist in Gainesville. Full-body photographs may be taken during screenings to monitor any changes or growth in atypical moles. Patients with DNS should also perform self-examinations between dermatology appointments.

Factors Increasing the Risk of Melanoma

Melanoma is typically influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and host factors. The primary environmental risk factor is unprotected exposure to UV radiation from the sun, tanning, lifetime sun exposure, or severe sunburns. Having a high number of dysplastic nevi is a significant host risk factor. Other host factors include increased freckling, poor tanning ability, fair complexion, light hair and eye color, and a family history of melanoma. Limiting sun exposure and implementing proper sun care routines are the best ways to prevent melanoma. For more information on sun protection, contact our office to speak with a Gainesville dermatologist.


The Treatment

Should Dysplastic Nevi Be Removed?

Atypical moles are considered precancerous as they have a higher likelihood of developing into melanoma compared to regular moles. However, not all individuals with atypical moles will develop melanoma. Most moles, both ordinary and atypical, never become cancerous. Therefore, removing all dysplastic nevi through dermatology surgery is unnecessary. However, professional screening and monitoring of all mole types, including dysplastic nevi, are crucial for early detection and effective treatment of cancerous moles.


What to Do If You Have a Dysplastic Nevus

Whether you have dysplastic nevi or not, it is essential to protect your skin from the sun and avoid tanning booths and sunlamps. Effective sun protection and UV protection are especially crucial for individuals with atypical moles. Patients with one or more dysplastic nevi should schedule regular screenings with dermatologists in Gainesville at Gainesville Dermatology & Skin Surgery. Those with a family history of melanoma or more than five dysplastic nevi should undergo skin exams every few months. If any changes in color, size, shape, texture, height, or if the nevus becomes dry, scaly, itchy, irritated, bleeds, or oozes, patients should promptly contact our office for a skin cancer screening.

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Moles are spots on your skin that may be flesh-colored, pink, tank, brown, black or other colors. Moles are common. In fact, almost every adult has a few of them. Adults with light skin may have as many as 40 moles on their skin, which is normal.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “most moles appear on the skin during childhood and adolescence. Moles will grow as the child or teen grows. Some will darken and others will lighten. These changes are expected and seldom a sign of melanoma.” However, for adults, new moles and changes to existing moles can be a sign of melanoma. Caught early, melanoma is highly treatable.


Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer because it can spread from the skin to other parts of the body. In 2023, an estimated 97,610 adults (58,120 and 39,490 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with melanoma. The American Association of Dermatology states that “while fewer people get melanoma than the more common types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin, developing melanoma can be more serious.”

The good news is that although melanoma is an aggressive cancer, when found early before it grows deep or spreads, it’s highly treatable. Treating melanoma early can prevent complex and difficult treatment that would be necessary if the cancer grows deep or spreads.

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