Atypical mole syndrome, also known as dysplastic nevus syndrome, is a skin disease characterized by a high amount of moles or mole-like tumors. While most people have somewhere between 10 an 20 moles on their body, those with atypical mole syndrome may have 100 or more moles. Some of the moles would be considered atypical, having asymmetrical edges and irregular borders, and are larger than normal moles.
Approximately 2 to 5 percent of the Caucasian population in the U.S. have atypical mole syndrome. Symptoms often appear in adulthood but can begin in childhood. Both men and women have this disease. It is more common in individuals with northern European descendents and is less common in Afro-Americans and Asians.
Atypical Mole Syndrome and Cancer
Those with atypical mole syndrome are more at risk of developing malignant melanoma, a type of skin cancer, than those without this disease. Family history of melanoma is also a factor in malignant melanoma, especially if other family members also have atypical mole syndrome. Some experts believe that this disease is a precursor to melanoma and some studies have shown that all family members, not just those with atypical mole syndrome, have a higher risk of developing melanoma.
Because an individual with atypical mole syndrome has at least one mole which is atypical and have so many moles, it may be more difficult to notice when a mole begins to change in shape or color. However, if there are any changes in appearance a specialist should be consulted immediately. These types of changes could indicate that a mole is becoming cancerous. Total body photography, done annually, can help to monitor for any changes in atypical moles as well as help spot any new moles which have developed.
There are also some indications that those with both atypical mole syndrome and a family history of melanoma also have a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. At the present time, there is very limited screening available for pancreatic cancer, however there are some. Endoscopic ultrasound is the most sensitive medical equipment for detecting small masses in the pancreas.
If you have a family history of both atypical mole syndrome and melanoma, you should speak with your doctor about having additional screening for pancreatic cancer.
Prevention and Monitoring
Any moles which appear to be cancerous should be surgically removed. However, it is unnecessary to remove all atypical moles, however, continued monitoring is important. It is recommended that any atypical mole is seen by a specialist at least once every 12 months and, as described about body photography can help discern any changes. If there are indications of cancer, the mole should be removed and biopsied.
In addition, doctors should educate patients on how to perform self-evaluations on a regular basis and the importance of protecting the skin while in the sun. It is also suggested that family members be screened for any atypical moles, as this can be hereditary.
Dermoscopy, using a small hand-held microscope, can be helpful in looking closely at the features and structures under the surface and provide doctors with additional information to decide whether a mole shows signs of being cancerous. Some primary physicians may be trained in using dermoscopy but this is often done by specialists.
Consistent preventive steps and monitoring is the best way to detect any changes as soon as they occur. Early detection and treatment of any moles which turn cancerous improves the chances of successful treatment.
“Atypical Mole Syndrome,” Updated 2008, April 9, National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.
“Atypical Moles,” 2008, Peggy R. Cyr, M.D., American Family Physician
“Familial Atypical Multiple Mole Melanoma Syndrome,” 2009,Douglas L. Riegert-Johnson, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine
“Moles and Melanoma,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, The Skin Cancer Foundation
"The Atypical-Mole Syndrome and Predisposition to Melanoma, 1998, July 30, Wachsmuth et al, The New England Journal of Medicine
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.