The One Place You Never Thought to Check for Melanoma

Legs walking

It goes without saying that you need to routinely check your back, legs, arms and any other exposed area of your body for questionable moles if you want to stay skin-cancer-free. But body parts that seem to be hidden from the sun’s rays are just as important to inspect regularly. One that you probably never thought to check but deserves equal attention from your critical eyes: your toenails.

If you’re like me, you keep those buggers polished at all times. But it’s extremely important to swipe off the polish and give your nails a thorough once-over every 1 to 3 months or more frequently, depending on your level of sun exposure or history of skin cancer.

Melanoma under the nail, called subungual melanoma, is most prevalent in people with darker complexions. And it is very aggressive and spreads quickly. It generally appears in the big toe, but is possible in any. Early stages are indicated with a pigmented stripe in the nail with no history of trauma. The stripe—called Hutchinson’s sign—is often wider at the base and narrower toward the edge of the nail. Over time, the stripe will begin to increase in size and width. If you don’t catch it early and it moves to an advanced stage, a lesion can form under the nail and eventually ulcerate and lift the nail.
It’s also possible to have a pigmented stripe that is NOT cancerous, called longitudinal melanonychia. Again, it’s more common in those with darker complexions. The difference is that the stripe is the same width from base to tip, and doesn’t change over time.

While you’re at it, it’s also smart to examine your cuticles for warts or lesions and the nail itself for any deformities. If you notice any changes in pigmentation or new growths or lesions during your inspection, go see your derm or podiatrist ASAP. In case it is indeed malignant, you want to have it removed before it worsens. Early detection is key.

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