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Atypical (dysplastic) nevi

Allan Halpern, MD, MSc
Elizabeth Quigley, MD
Section Editor
Hensin Tsao, MD, PhD
Deputy Editor
Rosamaria Corona, MD, DSc


Atypical nevi, also known as dysplastic nevi, are benign acquired melanocytic neoplasms. Atypical nevi share some of the clinical features of melanoma, such as asymmetry, irregular borders, multiple colors, and diameter >5 mm (picture 1A). They occur sporadically or in a familial setting. Histologically, they may demonstrate architectural disorder, cytologic atypia, and a variable amount of inflammation and fibrosis [1]. The terms "atypical nevi" and "dysplastic nevi" are clinically used interchangeably, although in theory a dysplastic nevus refers to a histologic diagnosis.

Although atypical nevi are benign lesions, they are strong phenotypic markers of an increased risk of melanoma, especially in individuals with numerous nevi and/or a family history of melanoma. Infrequently, atypical nevi may develop into melanoma.

This topic will discuss the clinical features, diagnosis, and management of atypical nevi. Congenital nevi and common acquired melanocytic nevi are discussed separately. (See "Congenital melanocytic nevi" and "Acquired melanocytic nevi (moles)".)


The terms "B-K mole," "B-K mole syndrome," and "familial atypical multiple mole and melanoma syndrome" (FAMMM) were first used in 1978 to describe a cutaneous phenotype characterized by multiple large atypical moles associated with a family history of melanoma in two or more first-degree relatives [2-4]. The terms "B-K mole" and "B-K mole syndrome" are no longer in common use.

The term "dysplastic nevus syndrome" was introduced at the same time to describe individuals with sporadic (nonfamilial) melanoma who had any number of large clinically and histologically atypical nevi [5,6].

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Literature review current through: Oct 2017. | This topic last updated: Feb 17, 2017.
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