Atypical Nevus/Dysplastic Nevi

Dysplastic means atypical or abnormal, and Nevi is the scientific term for moles.

Moles are considered dysplastic if they have abnormal features when they are examined under the microscope. The presence of a dysplastic mole may put an individual at increased risk for developing skin cancer.

On the skin, dysplastic moles can have the following characteristics:

  • The moles are larger than the moles and an average person.
  • The moles are irregular in:
    • Color – Frequently there are various shades of tans, browns, blacks, and reds
    • Outline – Frequently the moles are irregular in outline and may be jagged

When looking at your skin for atypical moles, check and see if your moles have: Asymmetry, irregular Borders, multiple Colors, a Diameter greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser), or any other Evolution or change. It should be noted that these ABCDE’s of atypical nevi are the same screening criteria used to find melanoma cancers on the skin.


Although they are atypical, dysplastic moles are benign and are not cancerous. They do not always need to be treated and your dermatologist may recommend monitoring your moles or a mole mapping procedure. Alternatively, a skin biopsy or excising the atypical mole might be warranted.

Patients with numerous atypical moles might have Dysplastic Nevus Syndrome. This syndrome is characterized by people who have a greater number of moles than the average person (usually greater than 50).

The cause of this syndrome is not known, although we do know it is inherited in most patients. Thus, there is an increased chance that brothers and sisters, children and parents of a person with Dysplastic Nevus Syndrome will also have the same syndrome and multiple atypical moles.

Patients with the Dysplastic Nevus Syndrome have a greater likelihood of developing melanoma skin cancer. This is especially true if the patient with Dysplastic Nevus Syndrome has a family member who has had a melanoma.

As stated, melanomas can look very similar to dysplastic nevi. Melanoma does not always grow out of a dysplastic mole – it can originate from normal skin.

Thus, it is important that patients with dysplastic moles be monitored carefully and examined regularly by a dermatologist so that any suspicious spot be spotted very early and removed before it can cause any damage. Mole mapping is an effective way to keep track of your moles and monitor your skin for any signs of skin cancer.

Contact Sanova Dermatology

If you would like more information, or if you would like to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced dermatologists, please contact us today.

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