Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Atypical Moles: What You Should Know


Am Fam Physician. 2008 Sep 15;78(6):741-742.

  See related article on atypical moles.

What are atypical moles?

Atypical moles are skin growths that are not cancerous.

What do they look like?

Atypical moles are usually bigger than 6 mm wide (about the size of a pencil eraser). They have an asymmetric shape and an uneven or jagged border. Atypical moles are usually more than two different shades of brown and are not the same color throughout (see drawing). They can sometimes look like a type of skin cancer called melanoma, but they are not melanoma.

Should I worry if I have an atypical mole?

Atypical moles can sometimes raise your risk of getting melanoma. The risk is higher in people who have a lot of atypical moles, especially if they also have family members who have had melanoma.

What if I have one?

Have your doctor examine your mole. He or she may remove the mole or have it checked for melanoma. Most atypical moles do not need to be removed.

What can I do to protect myself?

Watch your skin for new moles or any changes in your current moles. If you have a mole that bleeds or itches, tell your doctor right away. Also tell your doctor if your mole changes in size, shape, or color.

If you plan to be in the sun, wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and protective clothing (for example, long sleeves and long pants). Use sunscreen that is SPF 15 or higher and reapply it every two hours. Try to stay out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Never use a tanning bed.

See your doctor regularly for skin checks. Your doctor should examine your skin at least once a year.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

American Academy of Dermatology

Web site:

National Cancer Institute

Web site:

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2008 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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