Dysplastic (Atypical) Nevi

DYSPLASTIC NEVI (atypical moles) are common, benign (non-cancerous) moles that may look like melanoma. Typically, the margins are often faint or faded compared with the rest of the mole.

Are Dysplastic Nevi (Atypical Moles) Cancerous?
No. Atypical Moles are not cancerous, they are benign, although people who have them are at more risk of developing melanoma. Severely atypical nevi may look very similar to melanoma under the microscope and it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish the two with certainty on a small biopsy sample alone. For that reason, most physicians will recommend the complete removal of severely atypical moles.

Who Gets Dysplastic Nevi?
About 2 to 8 percent of the Caucasian population have these moles. Heredity appears to play a part in their formation.

What is the Risk of Having Dysplastic Nevi?
People who have them are at increased risk of developing melanoma, not necessarily within the dysplastic mole, but anywhere. The more of these moles someone has, the higher the risk of developing melanoma; Those who have 10 or more atypical moles have 12 times the risk of developing melanoma compared to the general population. Dysplastic nevi are found significantly more often in melanoma patients than in the general population. Those who have dysplastic nevi plus a family history of melanoma (two or more close blood relatives with the disease) have an extremely high risk of developing melanoma. Individuals who have dysplastic nevi, but no family history of melanoma, still face a 7 to 27 times higher risk of developing melanoma compared to the general population—certainly a great enough risk to warrant monthly self-examination, regular professional skin exams and daily sun protection.

Do Dysplastic Nevi Need to be Removed
Most do not need to be removed as they are benign (non-cancerous). When there is question or concern that a melanoma may be developing or it cannot be ruled out with complete certainty on a biopsy specimen, as is often the case with severely atypical nevi, removal may be recommended. For that reason, Dr. Bader recommends the complete removal of all severely atypical nevi.

I Had a Dysplastic Nevus. What Do I Need to Do Now?
Having one ore more dysplastic moles means that one is at increased risk for developing melanoma, not necessarily within the dysplastic nevi themselves, but anywhere. For that reason, a COMPLETE SKIN CANCER SCREENING (one must get completely undressed) is recommended once per year by a board-certified Dermatologist.

I Have a lot of Moles. How Can I Monitor Them?
It is nearly impossible to monitor moles for change without the use of photographs. Often, change can be so slow that one would not notice such changes on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, if one has many moles, especially with a history of dysplastic moles and/or melanoma, it is recommended that photographs are taken to monitor for the development of new spots and for change in any existing moles. Patients can also do this themselves by having someone take photographs of the areas with the most moles. Then, once every 3-4 months check the moles with the photograph for changes in size/shape/color and to see if any new pigmented spots have developed. If so, then go see your Dermatologist to have the spots evaluated.

What is Dermoscopy?
A device shines light under a suspicious lesion while magnifying the lesion from the top. This gives a 3-dimensional view to lesions that can “help” distinguish benign lesions from cancerous lesions and in many cases avoid unnecessary biopsies.

Robert S. Bader, M.D., Dermatologist

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