Melanocytes can form abnormal moles, also called atypical moles or dysplastic nevi. These moles are not malignant themselves, but their presence is a warning of an inherited tendency to develop melanoma. Some people have only 1 or 2 atypical moles; some people may have more than 100. The tendency to develop atypical moles can run in families (inherited predisposition).
Early signs of melanoma in atypical moles
The ABCDE rule of detection means watching for:
Atypical moles are seen most commonly on the back but may appear anywhere on the body, including below the waist, on the scalp, or on the breasts or buttocks. They may fade into surrounding skin and include a flat portion that is level with the skin surface. They may be smooth, slightly scaly, or have a rough, irregular, "pebbly" appearance.
Atypical moles usually are not present at birth but develop some time later.
Several types of atypical moles are known to develop before melanoma (melanoma precursors). Atypical moles are the most common precursor, but not all atypical moles develop into melanoma. Precursors to melanoma include:
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