Skip to main content

Moles, Dysplastic Nevi, and Melanoma

  • Synopsis: Published: 2010-10-14 - Moles are usually tan brown or pink in color and may be either raised or flat approximately one in every ten people has at least one unusual form of mole. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Disabled World.

Main Document

A mole is a form of growth on a person's skin. Moles occur when cells in the skin, referred to as, 'melanocytes,' grow in clusters within tissues surrounding them and are common.

The majority of people have anywhere from ten to forty moles. People can develop new moles periodically, often until the age of forty or so. Moles are usually tan, brown, or pink in color, and may be either raised or flat. They are commonly oval or round in shape and usually no larger than a pencil eraser.

Approximately one in every ten people has at least one unusual form of mole that is different in appearance from an ordinary one. These moles are referred to as, 'dysplastic nevi,' and can present a greater risk for developing into melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Due to this risk, people should have a medical professional examine their moles if they grow larger, have a strange appearance, change their color or outline, or differ in any way from what they were before.

About Melanoma

Melanoma is one of the most serious types of skin cancer. Advanced melanomas have the ability to spread to other parts of a person's body. For example; a melanoma may also develop in a person's eye, or on rare occasion, in parts of a person's body where pigment cells are found. Melanoma begins when, 'melanocytes,' or pigment cells, slowly become more abnormal and begin to divide without either order or control. The cells may invade and destroy the healthy cells around them.

Abnormal cells then form a growth of malignant tissue, or cancerous tissue, on the surface of the person's skin. Melanoma can start in either an existing mole, or as a new growth on the skin. A medical professional can distinguish an abnormal-looking mole that requires observation or removal, or needs to be checked for melanoma cells. A routine examination of a person's skin can help a medical professional to identify and follow moles that are abnormal.

Removal of an entire mole, or a sample of tissue for the purpose of examination underneath a microscope, is called a, 'biopsy.' When possible, the best choice is to remove moles through an excisional biopsy instead of a shave biopsy. Should the biopsy result in a diagnosis of melanoma, the person and their doctor need to work together to make the needed treatment decisions.

Many times, melanoma can be cured through minimal surgical intervention, if the tumor is discovered while it is still thin and before the cancer cells have started to spread to other places in the person's body. If melanoma is not discovered early enough, the cancer cells may spread through the person's bloodstream and lymphatic system, forming tumors in other parts of their body. Melanoma is more difficult to treat once it has spread, something referred to as, 'metastasis.'

Medical professionals believe it is possible to prevent many melanomas, as well as to detect the majority of others early when the disease is more likely to be cured through minimal surgical intervention. In the past several decades, an increasing number of melanomas have been discovered and diagnosed while still in the early stages, prior to spreading. It is important to learn about early detection and prevention of melanomas, particularly for people who are at an increased risk for melanoma. Those at increased risk include people who have dysplastic nevi, or a very large number of ordinary moles.

Risk factors for melanoma include:

  • Freckles
  • Dysplastic nevi
  • Ultraviolet radiation
  • History of melanoma
  • Weakened immune system
  • Family history of melanoma
  • Severe, blistering sunburns
  • Many than 50 ordinary moles

Not everyone who has dysplastic nevi or other factors for melanoma will get the disease; the fact is - most do not. Approximately half of people who do develop melanoma do not have dysplastic nevi. They might not have any other known risk factor for melanoma as well. Medical science is unable to explain at this time why one person does get melanoma, while another does not. Research has demonstrated that exposure to the sun, particularly excessive exposure leading to blistering sunburns, plays an important and avoidable risk factor in melanoma.

Preventing Melanoma

Unfortunately, the number of people who develop melanoma is increasing with each passing year. In America, the number has more than doubled over the past two decades. It is believed that the majority of the worldwide increase in melanoma is related to an increase in the amount of exposure to the sun people are allowing themselves.

Ultraviolet radiation (UV), from both the sun itself and sunlamps, as well as tanning booths, can damage a person's skin and lead to melanoma and other types of skin cancers. Everyone, particularly those who have dysplastic nevi and other risk factors, need to reduce the risk of developing melanoma by protecting their skin from UV radiation. A simple rule to remember is to avoid the sun, or protect your skin whenever your shadow is shorter than you are.

People who either work or play in the sun need to wear protective clothing such as long sleeves or a hat. Cream, gel, or lotion that contains sunscreen may help to protect a person's skin. A number of doctors believe that sunscreens can assist in preventing melanoma, especially sunscreens that absorb, reflect, or scatter both types of ultraviolet radiation - UVA and UVB. Sunscreens are rated according to the their strength in relation to, 'Sun Protection Factor,' or SPF. The higher the sunscreen's SPF rating, the greater the amount of protection it provides.

Sunscreens with an SPF rating of between twelve and twenty-nine provide a person with a moderate amount of protection. Sunscreens with an SPF rating of thirty or greater provide the a high level of protection against sunburn. Sunglasses with UV-absorbing lenses are something else a person should wear; the label on the sunglasses should state they have lenses blocking at least ninety-nine percent of UVA and UVB radiation.

Detecting Melanoma Early

The fact that melanoma commonly start on the surface of a person's skin means it may be detected while it is still at an early stage through a total skin examination by a medical professional. Checking your skin regularly for signs of the disease increases your change of finding melanoma early. A monthly self-examination of your skin is important for people who have known risk factors for melanoma, although it is a good idea for everyone. To perform a skin self-examination:

  • After a bath or shower, stand in front of a full-length mirror in a well-lighted room.
  • Use a hand-held mirror to look at hard-to-see areas.
  • Begin with the face and scalp and work downward, checking the head, neck, shoulders, back, chest, and so on.
  • Be sure to check the front, back, and sides of the arms and legs. Also, check the groin, the palms, the fingernails, the soles of the feet, the toenails, and the area between the toes.
  • Be sure to check the hard-to-see areas of the body, such as the scalp and neck. A friend or relative may be able to help inspect these areas. Use a comb or a blow dryer to help move hair so you can see the scalp and neck better.
  • Be aware of where your moles are and how they look. By checking your skin regularly, you will become familiar with what your moles look like. Look for any signs of change, particularly a new black mole or a change in outline, shape, size, color (especially a new black area), or feel of an existing mole. Also, note any new, unusual, or "ugly-looking" moles.
  • If your doctor has taken photos of your skin, compare these pictures with the way your skin looks on self-examination.
  • Check moles carefully during times of hormone changes, such as adolescence, pregnancy, and menopause. As hormone levels change, moles may change.
  • It may be helpful to record the dates of your skin exams and to write notes about the way your skin looks. If you find anything unusual, see your doctor right away. Remember, the earlier a melanoma is found, the better the chance for a cure.

In addition to a skin self-examination, people should have their skin checked on a regular basis by a medical professional. The medical professional can check the person's skin during regular checkups. At times it may be necessary to visit a specialist called a, 'dermatologist,' or another specialist.

Melanoma can run in families; members of these families are at a higher risk for the disease. In some of these families, certain members may have a large number of dysplastic nevi and a particularly high risk of developing melanoma. When two or more people in a family develop melanoma, it is important for all of the person's close relatives to visit a doctor for a skin examination. The doctor can then decide who in the family need to be followed in relation to dysplastic nevi and risk factors for melanoma.



Related Information:

  1. How Sunlight Causes Skin Cells to Turn Cancerous
  2. Skin Cancer and Melanoma Treatment Methods
  3. Melanoma Information


Information from our Skin Diseases: Facts & Information section - (Full List).


     What will I receive?

Loan Information for low income singles, families, seniors and disabled. Includes home, vehicle and personal loans.


Famous People with Disabilities - Well known people with disabilities and conditions who contributed to society.


List of awareness ribbon colors and their meaning. Also see our calendar of awareness dates.


Blood Pressure Chart - What should your blood pressure be. Also see information on blood group types and compatibility.


  1. New Approach to Studying Chromosomes' Centers May Reveal Link to Down Syndrome and More
  2. Social Mobile Gaming Boosts Rehabilitation for Patients with Physical Disabilities
  3. Rebuilding Spinal Cords with Energetic Polymer Scaffold
  4. Nonprofit Disability Solutions Connects Jobseekers with Top Companies




Citation