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A common mole is a growth on the skin that develops when pigment cells (melanocytes) grow in clusters. Most adults have between 10 and 40 common moles. These growths are usually found above the waist on areas exposed to the Sun. They are seldom found on the scalp, breast, or buttocks. Although common moles may be present at birth, they usually appear later in childhood. Most people continue to develop new moles until about age 40. In older people, common moles tend to fade away. Another name for a mole is a nevus. The plural is nevi. A common mole is usually smaller than about 5 millimeters wide (about 1/4 inch, the width of a pencil eraser). It is round or oval, has a smooth surface with a distinct edge, and is often dome-shaped. A common mole usually has an even color of pink, tan, or brown. People who have dark skin or hair tend to have darker moles than people with fair skin or blonde hair.

A dysplastic nevus may occur anywhere on the body, but it is usually seen in areas exposed to the sun, such as on the back. A dysplastic nevus may also appear in areas not exposed to the sun, such as the scalp, breasts, and areas below the waist. Some people have only a couple of dysplastic nevi, but other people have more than 10. People who have dysplastic nevi usually also have an increased number of common moles.

Dysplastic nevus and melanoma

Most dysplastic nevi do not turn into melanoma, although some do. Most remain stable over time. Researchers estimate that the chance of melanoma is about ten times greater for someone with more than five dysplastic nevi than for someone who has none, and the more dysplastic nevi a person has, the greater the chance of developing melanoma.


Everyone should protect their skin from the sun and stay away from sunlamps and tanning booths, but for people who have dysplastic nevi, it is even more important to protect the skin and avoid getting a suntan or sunburn.

In addition, many doctors recommend that people with dysplastic nevi check their skin once a month. People should tell their doctor if they see any of the following changes in a dysplastic nevus:

  • The color changes
  • It gets smaller or bigger
  • It changes in shape, texture, or height
  • The skin on the surface becomes dry or scaly
  • It becomes hard or feels lumpy
  • It starts to itch
  • It bleeds or oozes

Another thing that people with dysplastic nevi should do is get their skin examined by a doctor. Sometimes people or their doctors take photographs of dysplastic nevi so changes over time are easier to see. For people with many (more than five) dysplastic nevi, doctors may conduct a skin exam once or twice a year because of the moderately increased chance of melanoma. For people who also have a family history of melanoma, doctors may suggest a more frequent skin exam, such as every 3 to 6 months. Normally, people do not need to have a dysplastic nevus or common mole removed. One reason is that very few dysplastic nevi or common moles turn into melanoma. Another reason is that even removing all of the moles on the skin would not prevent the development of melanoma because melanoma can develop as a new colored area on the skin. That is why doctors usually remove only a mole that changes or a new colored area on the skin.


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