What is an Atypical Nevus?

An Atypical nevus may form when melanocytes, the cells responsible for skin color, form clusters instead of spreading evenly throughout the skin. Atypical nevi, also known as Clark’s or dysplastic nevi, are noncancerous moles that are usually larger than ordinary moles and vary in color from pink to dark brown. Their borders may be irregular and fade into the surrounding skin. Unlike some other types of moles, atypical nevi may be flat or partially flat with raised, pebbly areas.The people most likely to find an atypical nevus are those with family members who have them, though they can also appear during times of extreme hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy or puberty. They are often found on areas of the body that are exposed to the sun, though they can appear anywhere. While atypical nevi are benign, they can turn into melanoma, a serious type of skin cancer. Most do not turn into melanoma, but the chances of developing melanoma go up as the number of atypical nevi rises. For this reason, you should still check the spots regularly for changes. If a mole changes size, shape or color, becomes hard, lumpy or itchy, or bleeds or oozes, consult your dermatologist.Since exposure to sun is a factor in so many cases of atypical nevi, one way to protect yourself is to limit your time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays reach their peak. Always wear sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 30 with protection against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays and reapply it every couple of hours. Wear protective clothing and sunglasses and stay in the shade when possible. Avoid tanning beds and be careful around anything that can reflect the sun’s rays, such as water, sand and snow.

What You Need to Know

  • Atypical nevi are not cancer and are harmless, though they can turn into melanoma
  • Checking your own skin once a month for abnormalities and changes in atypical nevi can lead to early detection of any problems
  • An atypical nevus can usually be diagnosed visually, though a biopsy may be necessary to be sure

Atypical NevusCheck Yourself

You can also help protect yourself by examining your own skin once a month. It is often difficult to diagnose skin cancer just by appearance. This is why it’s so important for you to check your own skin and notify your doctor of anything you find. Examine yourself from head to toe, using a mirror when necessary. Look for any changes to existing moles and freckles, sores that take more than 3 weeks to heal, spots that hurt or itch continuously, growths that have increased in size or are larger than a pencil eraser, irregular outlines or changes in color or texture. If you note any changes in your skin, see your dermatologist. Know Your Spots >>


Diagnosis and Treatment

It can be challenging to determine if an atypical nevus may turn into skin cancer. After examining the nevi, your doctor will consider your family history and genetic traits to determine whether or not a biopsy is warranted. Biopsies are most commonly done under local anesthesia and involve removing the abnormality and a thin layer of the surrounding skin for examination under a microscope. After examining the sample, a Cockerell Dermatopathology dermatopathologist will provide your doctor with a definitive diagnosis. If the characteristics of your lesion are not atypical enough for a biopsy, your doctor will recommend monitoring the area and keeping records using digital photos and measurements to look for any evolving changes over time.


What is Dermatopathology?

The combination of pathology (using a microscope to identify diseases) and dermatology (diagnosing and treating diseases of the skin, nails and hair) is called dermatopathology. Dermatopathologists are highly trained physicians who examine tissue specimens under a microscope, use the medical information shared by your doctor and consult with him or her as necessary. This personal service and collaboration between your doctor and our dermatopathologists help ensure the most precise, conclusive diagnosis.


About Cockerell Dermatopathology

Cockerell Dermatopathology, located in the heart of Dallas’ medical district, was founded by Dr. Clay J. Cockerell, former president of the American Academy of Dermatology and internationally recognized dermatologist and dermatopathologist.  Cockerell Dermatopathology offers diagnostic excellence and unparalleled service in the evaluation of dermatologic disorders ranging from the routine to the most difficult. To best serve referring clinicians and their patients, Cockerell Dermatopathology continues to invest in the future by implementing advanced technologies within the laboratory. These new technologies produce higher quality slides to diagnose, improves turnaround time on routine cases and allows for quicker deployment of EMR interfaces.  From an academic standpoint, Cockerell Dermatopathology hosts numerous Internet-based continuing education events and has a 14-headed microscope for in-person training sessions. Cockerell Dermatopathology serves more than 800 clinicians from across Texas, the United States and abroad. With an accessible team of board-certified dermatopathologists and a highly trained support staff, Cockerell Dermatopathology’s vision is to treat every specimen as if it came from one of our own family members.

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