The term “dysplastic nevi” may look complicated but you don’t need to go into panic mode if you are diagnosed with this condition. A “nevus” is the medical term for a mole and “nevi” is the plural of this. The “dysplastic” part of the name refers to the fact that these type of moles are considered to be atypical or abnormal. Although they are benign, they have the potential to become cancerous further down the line.
What are dysplastic nevi?
Dysplastic nevi will usually have an irregular shape. As they will often have an irregular border, slight variations in color (the mole won’t necessarily be a uniform color and some areas may be darker or lighter than others) and lack of symmetry, they can look similar to a melanoma. Their edges will often be faded or notched in comparison to a “normal” mole. They can be either flat or raised up and some will have a “rough” look. It’s not unusual to see dysplastic nevi exceed 1/4 of an inch in size. In terms of color, they can be pink, red, tan or brown.
Why do they occur?
As it is thought that dysplastic nevi are hereditary, a family history of atypical moles can be a contributing factor. They usually present themselves at puberty and can appear anywhere on the body. They are more common in areas that are repeatedly exposed to the sun.
Are they dangerous?
Dysplastic nevi is one of the risk factors for melanoma, a skin cancer that can prove fatal. This could develop in an existing mole or on another area of the body that is not affected by dysplastic nevi. You’re more likely to develop melanoma if close family members have been diagnosed with this. Anyone with a considerable amount of dysplastic nevi is advised to a full skin exam every year and this is even more important if there is a family history of melanoma.
On top of this, it is wise to self-check your moles on a monthly basis. Get them checked out if you notice that any of them are changing in size, shape or color as these can be signs that they are becoming cancerous. Other warning signs include itching and bleeding. If early melanoma is suspected, your doctor will usually decide that the mole(s) will need to be removed as soon as possible. It is not always easy to determine whether a particular mole has become cancerous until it is removed and sent for analysis.
How can I prevent melanoma?
Because of this, it is wise to use good sunscreen (with an SPF of at least 30) when you are out in the sun to protect against damage from UV rays. It is also advisable to wear sensible clothes and stay in the shade when the sun is at its strongest in the middle part of the day. This helps to protect against melanoma.
What does treatment involve?
Unless an atypical mole show signs of developing into a melanoma, it will be left alone. If treatment is needed, it generally means having the mole(s) cut out of your skin so that it can be sent to a pathologist for close inspection. This tends to leave a permanent scar.