In one of our previous, similar posts, ‘Normal Moles vs. Atypical Moles’, we discussed that titular subject. In today’s post, our focus will be on comparing atypical moles with melanoma.
What are Atypical Moles?
Many people know that melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. But what are atypical moles? Are they cancerous?
Atypical moles (known in medical terms as dysplastic nevi) are similar to common moles in that melanoma usually does not develop in either. However, as we’ll expand on below, their presence is an indicator of an increased melanoma risk in general.
Atypical moles are usually larger than common moles, as well as differing in color (ranging from pink to dark-brown), shape (often irregular), and border with surrounding skin (often fuzzy).
While common moles are generally round or oval, atypicals may look more like a picture from a Rorschach inkblot test.
Turn and Face the Change
David Bowie’s hit song also provides us with some excellent skin care advice. Atypical moles are rarely removed because the procedure isn’t necessary. Nor would excision reduce the risk of converting them to melanoma by very much. However…
If you notice any change in an atypical mole (or in any mole, for that matter) during one of your highly-recommend monthly skin self-exams, it’s important to have it checked by a dermatologist as soon as possible. That means any change, including in size, color, texture, shape, or height. Also, if it turns hard/lumpy, or begins bleeding, itching or oozing.
Just the FAQ’s, Ma’am (or Sir), Just the FAQ’s
Here are a few other things you should know about atypical moles:
- The risk of melanoma increases 10-fold in people who have 5 or more atypical moles. Although it usually arises in clear skin rather than in an atypical mole. Atypical moles serve as markers for melanoma risk.
- The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) estimates that 2-8% of the current U.S. population has atypical moles
- No matter what an atypical mole looks like, judging it to be benign or malignant just on its’ appearance is an unreliable method of determining if melanoma is present. Even a trained dermatologist can’t make that determination just by viewing it. The only way to ensure a correct diagnosis is through a biopsy followed by a pathological examination
- As with any other moles or skin cancers, atypicals can appear anywhere on the skin. This includes under the hair (scalp) and areas of skin that rarely, if ever, see the light of day
- People with an abnormal number of moles, atypical or otherwise, should be even more careful about exposure to the sun’s harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays. Exposing moles to UV radiation, whether from the sun or tanning lamps, is dangerous.
Severely atypical moles, such as the one on the left, are even more challenging to distinguish from melanomas. The right image was a melanoma. As a result, dermatologists generally treat severely atypical moles the same way as melanomas.
Atypical Moles vs. Melanoma
Additional source articles: Ncbi.gov, Common Moles, Dysplastic Nevi and Risk of Melanoma
When a person begins educating him or herself about melanoma, some of the first relevant information they’ll come across will be on moles. They’re very important, as 90% of all melanomas begin on the skin and pretty much everyone has them.
Although you’ve surely seen them countless times, you may not be aware that there are two types: normal moles, and atypical moles. (Officially, dysplastic nevi).
Atypical moles have a much greater chance to develop into melanoma than do normal moles. The odds are about 1 in 100 with the former; yet fewer than 1 in 3,000 with the latter. Those who have an atypical mole(s) carry a stronger risk of melanoma. Incidentally, the appearance of hair on any mole is medically irrelevant. It carries no weight with regard to an increased risk of skin cancer.
No one should ever try to tell the two apart without a biopsy; as even a dermatologist cannot be certain without one. However, they do have some distinguishing characteristics that (in general) helps to tell them apart.
For instance, normal moles maintain the same color (most often brown), are round, oval, and sometimes domed in shape. They have well-defined borders and are less than a quarter-inch wide.
These are two examples of normal moles, both raised and flat:
Atypical moles are wider than a quarter-inch and may be multi-colored (brown or pink). They have uneven borders and an irregular shape. Raised dysplastic nevi display a “fried egg” look.
These are two examples of atypical moles, both raised and flat:
Familial Atypical Mole Syndrome
One thing they both do have in common is that their surface areas are usually smooth or cauliflower in texture.
Familial Atypical Mole Syndrome is a disorder that is passed along through our genes. If any close relatives (immediate family but also including grandparents, uncles and aunts) have or have had melanoma and if a large number of atypical moles are present, there’s a high risk of developing the disease.
While monthly self-examination is important for every person of either gender, all races and skin tones, it’s even more vital to those with Familial Atypical Mole Syndrome.
Below is an example of Familial Atypical Mole Syndrome: