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Dysplastic Naevi or moles

Dysplastic naevi are moles with unusual features that may resemble melanoma, however, in the majority of cases are harmless. They are more common in fair skin people, and represent one of the most common conditions we see at My Skin Cancer Centre. Dysplastic naevi have the potential to change, and melanoma within dysplastic naevi may occur, however it is impossible to predict which moles may change. The importance of dysplastic naevi is that these moles should be followed up or monitored with both photography and clinical examination by your skin cancer doctor.

Important facts on Dysplastic Naevi

  • These are common moles seen at My Skin Cancer Centre.
  • Dysplastic Naevi resemble melanomas but are harmless
  • Upto 8% of Brisbane’s population will have dysplastic naevi
  • Follow up with clinical examination and photography provides the best possible chance of picking up changing moles
  • Atypical or dysplastic moles may run in families: a condition called Dysplastic Naevus syndrome
  • Patients who have atypical/abnormaldysplastic naevi are at higher risk of developing melanoma, especially is they have 5 or more abnormal moles
  • Mole Mapping by Dermatologist can assist in computer assisted imagery and flow up of high risk patients

What are dysplastic naevi?

dysplastic moles brisbaneDysplastic naevi are also known as atypical naevi or Clark’s naevi. These names all refer to moles that have unusual features when examined both on a clinical level as well as under a microscope following a biopsy. Atypical naevi while generally considered benign and not of concern, may in certain cases be precursors to the dangerous skin cancer, melanoma. Often these moles can look similar to a melanoma in that they may be asymmetrical with irregular borders and may have a dark orvariegated appearance.
When examined under a microscope these moles have features that are different to those seen in “typical” moles.
While having one atypical naevus is not of great concern, those who have a lot of these moles (greater than 5) are at increased risk for developing a melanoma at some point in the future.

Read more about melanoma skin cancer

Can dysplastic moles run in the family?


YES, Familial Atypical Mole and Melanoma syndrome (FAMM) previously referred to as dysplastic naevus syndrome refers to a genetic condition in which family members exhibit atypical naevi.  For a diagnosis of FAMM, all of the following criteria must be present:

  • A first or second degree relative who has had malignant melanoma
  • Having multiple (greater than 50) moles on your body, some of which may be atypical
  • Having been diagnosed with atypical naevi following a biopsy

What are the treatment options for dysplastic moles?

changing molesAny atypical naevus should be examined by your doctor or dermatologist, such that a decision may be made as to whether or not the mole should be removed. Often, most patients will undergo a comprehensive baseline skin examination. Based on the findings from the examination your doctor will determine the ideal management plan.


As a basic guide, dysplastic nevi with mildly atypical features can be carefully watched with regular examinations for changes in appearance. A routine skin checkshould be carried out at least every 12 months and patients should perform monthly self skin examinations. More frequent examinations may be indicated if additional risk factors exist. Dysplastic nevi with a moderately atypical appearance are often completely removed by a biopsy and no further treatment is required. Dysplastic naevi with severely atypical features are best treated by complete removal along with a surrounding margin of normal skin.


As a general rule, any mole that does not “behave” in the expected manner or changes over time is likely to be removed under local anaesthetic.

How do we tell the difference between dysplastic naevi and melanomas?

mole mappingThe best method of distinguishing between dysplastic naevi and melanoma is a surgical biopsy of the mole. This is carried out under local anaesthetic and may require some stiches.

What is the importance of identifying and follow up of unusual moles?

checking moles brisbane

Individuals with atypical naevi have an increased risk for developing a melanoma in the future when compared to the rest of the population.  For this reason, regular monitoring and follow up of any abnormal moles is suggested.  

How often should I have my abnormal or dysplastic moles checked?

brisbane mole scanIf you have atypical moles you should be routinely checked by complete skin examination at least every 12 months. It is also recommended that you perform self-skin examinations once a month.

How do I conduct self-examination of my own moles?

Things to look for on self examination:
– Any new moles
– Any changes to existing moles (size, shape, colour, bleeding, itch or pain)


  1. Head check: In front of a mirror, thoroughly examine the entire face paying particular attention to the nose, lips, mouth and ears. Use a mirror to examine behind the ears and don’t forget to check inside the ear itself. Using a comb to separate the hair examine the scalp. If possible get assistance from a family member to examine the back of the head.
  2. Hand Check: Examine all surfaces of the hand including; the palms, back of the hands, between each finger and pay close attention to the nails and nail bed for any discoloration. From here it is best to use a mirror as you move up toward the wrists and the forearms carefully checking all sides.
  3. Upper Body Check: Staying in front of a large mirror, continue to examine all sides of the arms, lifting the arms to check the armpits and underside of the arms. Thoroughly examine the chest and abdomen and if possible get a family member to examine your back. It is important to examine the neck carefully. Do not rush this part of the exam as there is a large area of skin to be checked!
  4. Lower body check: Remain in front of a mirror and use a second mirror to help examine the lower back, buttocks and the back of the legs. The lower legs may best be examined while seated. Remain seated to examine the feet, heels and inspect between the toes. Remember to check the underside of each foot along with each nail on the toes.
  5. Important not to forget! Use a small hand mirror to check the genital region