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Telephone: 404-851-1766 Toll Free: 866-851-5030

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Patient Education

Melanocytic Nevi (Moles)

A melanocytic nevus, also known as “mole”, is a very common skin lesion composed of pigment cells (melanocytes). Most melanocytic nevi are harmless, but occasionally a melanoma (a malignant tumor of pigment cells) may arise in association with such lesions.  Moles can be flat or raised on the skin surface and can have a range of colors.  They may be skin colored to pink-red to brown-black (pigmented) in color.  Melanocytic nevi may be present at or soon after birth (congenital melanocytic nevi) or they may form during childhood or in early adulthood (acquired melanocytic nevi).  Nevi may develop anywhere on the skin or mucous membranes.  Both genetics and sun exposure have an influence on the number and distribution of moles in an individual.   In addition, moles may enlarge or darken during certain times such as puberty and pregnancy.


Nevi can be classified in several ways.  Most commonly, nevi may be described based on the location of the pigment cells in the skin.  In a junctional nevus, the pigment cells are located in the top layer of skin (epidermis). In an intradermal nevus, the cells are within the deeper layer of the skin (dermis).  A compound nevus has pigment cells in both the epidermis and dermis. Nevi may also be classified based on the shape of the melanocytes.  Common nevocellular nevi have melanocytes that are round to oval in shape and arranged as clusters (melanocytic nests). A blue nevus is a type of intradermal nevus that usually has heavily pigmented spindle shaped melanocytes deep in the dermis.  A spitz nevus is a special type of nevus usually seen in children in which the melanocytes have a spindled and epithelioid shape.   An “atypical” nevus is a general term for any unusual looking mole.  Generally, these nevi are larger in size than most moles with irregularity in shape and color.  A dysplastic nevus is one type of atypical nevus with certain features seen under the microscope. Please see the section under “Atypical / Dysplastic Nevi (Atypical Moles)” for more information on these lesions.


Most melanocytic nevi are harmless and need no treatment.  However, nevi can be removed if they become irritated or unsightly. Atypical and dysplastic nevi are also harmless; however, they are often removed because their unusual appearance can be confused with melanoma clinically.  In addition, any mole that bleeds, grows quickly, or changes its shape or color should be evaluated medically.  Suspicious lesions can then be biopsied and sent for microscopic evaluation.

logo-2 Finan Templeton Dermatopathology Associates 1200 Lake Hearn Drive, Suite 300     Atlanta, GA 30319     T: 404-851-1766