Dysplastic or atypical moles are moles that are somewhat irregular, either to the naked eye or under the microscope.  About 10% of people will have at least one atypical mole.

What do Dysplastic Moles Look Like?

Atypical moles are typically larger than the average mole.  They often have a slightly irregular or jagged outline and may have more than one shade of brown or more than one colour such as tan, black or red.  Dysplastic moles will usually have some of the ABCDE criteria used to look for melanoma.

Are Dysplastic Moles Cancerous?

No.  Dysplastic moles are benign moles.  They are not cancerous and most dysplastic moles are also not pre-cancerous.  The risk of any benign mole transforming in to a melanoma is very small.  Most melanomas originate from normal skin and not from a pre-existing mole.

What does Having Dysplastic Moles Mean?

Having multiple irregular moles increases one's risk for developing melanoma, especially if that person also has more than 50 or 100 moles and close family members who have had melanoma (not non-melanoma skin cancers such as basal cell carcionomas).  

What Should I do if I think I have Atypical Moles?

Dr. Levy recommends regular skin self-examination.  When you examine your moles, look for the ABCDEs of melanoma.  If you spot something that worries you, have it examined as soon as possible.    It is often helpful to have a family member take photographs of your skin to help you keep track of your moles.

People who have so many moles that they find it difficult to keep track of them should consider seeing their family doctor or a dermatologist to have their moles checked. Those at high risk for melanoma should see a dermatologist regularly for skin cancer screening.

Is There Anything Else I can do to Prevent Skin Cancer if I am at Risk?

Yes.  Sun-protection is very important.  Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher when you are exposed to sun.  Apply the sunscreen liberally and re-apply it every 2 hours and immediately after being immersed in water.  Wear hats, sunglasses and sun-protective clothing.