As the title indicates, there are two different types of normal, non-cancerous moles: the common mole, and the dysplastic nevus.
Most common moles are smaller than the width of a pencil eraser, and can be pink, tan or brown in color. Dr. Michelle Yagoda, a facial plastic surgeon who specializes in mole removal, says that common moles generally are “symmetrical and have even color throughout.”
The second type of mole, the dysplastic nevus, is also normal but may look a bit different from the common mole: it can be different colors, and is usually larger. It can also have an irregular shape or a scaly surface.
The dysplastic nevus, like the common mole, can often be found in areas on the body that are exposed to the sun, such as on the back. However, they can also be found in places that are not exposed to the sun very often.
Fun fact: Those who have dysplastic nevi also tend to have quite a few common moles.
Great, so that weird-looking mole on your back might actually be completely normal after all! Not so fast…while most dysplastic nevi are benign, these types of moles do have the potential to turn into melanoma.
It’s a scary thought but it’s important that you catch potentially cancerous moles early!
Researchers have found that people who have five dysplastic nevi or more on their bodies are 10 times more likely to develop melanoma than those who have none. And the more dysplastic nevi a person has, the higher the risk.
Also consider the following: If you have dysplastic nevi, make sure you check them once a month for changes in color, size or texture, and make note if the spot starts to ooze or bleed, or starts to feel lumpy.
If you have trouble remembering exactly what to look for in a mole, Dr. Yagoda recommends:
“Think A, B, C, D, E: [Potentially dangerous moles] tend to be asymmetrical, borders are irregular, color is uneven, diameter is larger than six millimeters, and they evolve in size, shape, or color (meaning the mole is changing).”
Genetics can also play a part in your likelihood of developing cancer. "Familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome," or FAMMM (try saying that 10 times fast!) can up your chances of developing melanoma. This means that one or more of your first or second-degree relatives has melanoma.
Being told you have melanoma can seem like the scariest thing in the world, but it doesn’t have to be. If caught early enough, melanoma is very treatable and can even be completely cured. The doctor will want to determine which stage the melanoma is at, and whether it has spread to different parts of the body. Often time surgery is utilized to remove all of the cancerous cells.