What is a Dysplastic or Atypical Mole?

A dysplastic (atypical) mole is one that, when viewed on a cellular level, has features unlike those of a healthy, benign mole. A benign mole will have a regular pattern of coloration and pigment, even borders, symmetry, and a tan or pink color. Dysplastic moles can be asymmetric, have indistinct borders, or contain multiple colors or very dark pigment.

Dysplastic moles are often spotted as the “ugly duckling” on a patient’s skin. Any departure from the typical mole a person’s skin makes may be dysplastic.

Are Dysplastic or Atypical Moles Cancerous?

Dysplastic moles are not yet cancerous nor are they considered “pre-cancerous,” only potentially so. Dysplasia comes in varying degrees, from mild to moderate to severe.  The risk of melanoma development generally correlates with the severity of abnormality noted. Mildly atypical moles can be monitored for regrowth and future changes. Moderately and severely atypical moles will often be completely removed following a biopsy, as these more extreme changes may indicate a high potential for development into melanoma. For this reason, it is best to remove the mole completely to avoid any further evolution. This does not mean the mole was necessarily going to become a melanoma, but, due to the danger of this type of cancer, it is best to use precaution.

Monitoring Your Moles

If you have had multiple dysplastic moles, you are at higher risk for having more atypical moles (and possibly melanoma) in the future. Dysplastic moles are more likely to develop into melanoma than are benign moles, which rarely evolve into anything dangerous.

This does NOT mean you WILL have melanoma if you have dysplastic moles; most remain stable over time. It does, however, mean your skin needs to be watched more closely and that you need to take certain precautions:

  • See your dermatologist for skin exams every 6-12 months, or more depending on the provider’s recommendation.
  • Be diligent with daily sun protection of SPF 30+ on exposed areas to avoid atypical changes in your moles.
  • Make a habit to screen yourself monthly. Some people like to take photos for a reference point, or have a spouse or friend look at areas that are hard for you to see.

When in doubt, always have a professional dermatologist evaluate any and all areas of concern. Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early, so it is always best to err on the side of caution when you have a concern.