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Moles: Who gets and types

Who gets moles?

Nearly every adult has a few moles. Most adults have a type of mole called a common mole, which is harmless.

There are other types of moles. Below you'll see types of moles that can increase a person’s risk of getting melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. If you discover any one of these moles on your skin, you should have a dermatologist who can give you skin exams.

Types of moles that increase melanoma risk

Atypcial moles
Melanoma can grow in an atypical mole. Anyone who has atypical moles, such as this patient, should watch his or her moles for change.

Atypical moles

Melanoma can grow in an atypical mole. Anyone who has atypical moles, such as this patient, should watch his or her moles for change.

Atypical moles on a patient's back

Atypical mole
This type of mole can look like melanoma. It is not melanoma. But you have a higher risk of getting melanoma if you have:

  • Four or more atypical moles.

  • Already had a melanoma.

  • A first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) who had melanoma.

Your dermatologist may call an atypical mole a dysplastic nevus. Nevus is the medical term for mole. When your dermatologist is talking about two or more moles, you may hear the word "nevi."

Atypical moles (or nevi) are often:

  • Larger than an eraser on the end of a pencil.

  • Have an odd shape (not round).

  • Show more than one color—mixes of tan, brown, red, and pink.

Atypical moles can appear anywhere on the body. They often appear on the trunk. You can also get them on your scalp, head, or neck. Atypical moles rarely appear on the face.

Some people who have many atypical moles have a medical condition called familial atypical multiple mole-melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome. People with FAMMM syndrome have:

  • Many moles—more than 50

  • Some moles that are atypical

  • A blood relative who has (or had) melanoma

Congenital mole
When a person is born with a mole, the mole is called a congenital mole. Roughly, 1 out of 100 people is born with a mole. These moles vary in size from small to giant. Having a giant congenital mole increases a person’s risk of developing melanoma.

Congenital mole

This congenital mole was small when the girl was born. When it started to grow, her dermatologist removed it.

Congential mole on bottom of foot

Spitz nevus
This mole can look like melanoma. In fact, it can so closely resemble melanoma that a dermatologist cannot tell by looking at it. Most Spitz nevi are pink, raised, and dome-shaped. A Spitz nevus can also have different colors in it like red, black, and brown. The mole may bleed. It can have an opening that oozes.

Most Spitz nevi appear on the skin during the first 20 years of life. Adults also occasionally get Spitz nevi.

Spitz nevus

This type of mole is often pink, raised, and dome-shaped.

Spitz nevus mole

Acquired mole (50 to 100 or more)
When a mole appears on the skin after a person is born, it is called an acquired mole. Most people who have light skin have about 10 to 40 of these moles. These moles also are called common moles.

If a person has 50 or more of these moles, the person has a higher risk for getting melanoma.

Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.