Atypical melanocytes are abnormal-looking pigment-producing cells. They are usually identified during a physical exam when a doctor sees an unusual skin lesion, and a pathologist can examine it in a lab to learn more about what is happening inside the cells. In some cases they are malignant, while in others they can be benign. It is important to evaluate skin lesions to determine their nature before deciding how to proceed with treatment.
Most often, atypical melanocytes appear in a pigmented lesion with irregular borders. The lesion can change rapidly, suggesting that uncontrolled cell growth is taking place, but this is not always the case. These growths are often identified by healthcare professionals as they may be in places patients do not look, or patients may not recognize the telltale signs of a problematic skin lesion.
A doctor can scrape off a suspicious growth or remove it completely and send the cells for a biopsy. If a pathologist identifies atypical melanocytes, as much information about the cells as possible will be provided. This will determine whether they are malignant, pre-malignant or benign. If the cells appear dangerous, additional treatment may be recommended, such as surgery around the margins or radiation to suppress cell growth. In other cases, a wait-and-see approach should be recommended.
In the case of benign atypical melanocytes, it is generally recommended to monitor the lesion over time. While these cells may not present a problem, there may be an increased risk of developing a malignant skin condition. Finding the condition earlier will provide you with more treatment options and may also increase the chances of a successful treatment option. The increased awareness of the risks of skin cancer has made many people much more aware about checking for and monitoring skin changes.
Patients may also want to consider a second opinion when atypical melanocytes are identified. Doctors specializing in skin care are often happy to provide referrals to colleagues so patients can feel confident with a diagnosis and treatment plan. Each doctor’s approach to treating skin problems is unique, and different recommendations from a new doctor do not necessarily mean that the previous doctor was incompetent or was recommending a dangerous treatment. Some doctors are more aggressive and practical, while others prefer to be more conservative. Both treatment approaches have advantages and disadvantages and are equally valid.