We conducted a case-control study to identify factors associated with the presence of clinically atypical nevi. Potential participants were selected, using a two-staged sampling scheme, from a population-based cohort of 50,000 Swedish women who had responded to a previous health survey questionnaire. Of 500 women sampled for study recruitment, 400 (80%) agreed to participate. Study participants underwent a physician-conducted skin examination, which identified 130 women who had at least one clinically atypical nevus (cases) and 270 women without these lesions (controls). The physician-conducted skin examination also assessed women for benign nevus counts; other risk factor information was based upon responses to a health survey questionnaire. We found a strong and highly statistically significant relationship between number of benign nevi and the presence of at least one clinically atypical nevus (P < 0.0001). Women with 100 or more benign nevi had a 26-fold increased likelihood of having an atypical nevus. We noted statistically significant interactions between number of benign nevi and other factors of interest; thus, the results are reported separately for women with low (<50) or high (> or =50) counts of benign nevi. Among women with low counts of benign nevi, the likelihood of having an atypical nevus increased with degree of freckling; there was also a suggested role for early sun exposure. Among women with high counts of benign nevi, difficulty tanning and lack of peeling sunburns between ages 10 and 19 appeared to increase the likelihood of case status; our data also suggested an inverse relationship between parity and atypical nevi in this subgroup.

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