Skin cancer or melanomas are extremely common in Australia. In fact, we have the highest melanoma rate in the world. But not many people know that toe or finger nails are also prone to developing cancer.
Nail melanomas are relatively rare (1 to 4% of cancers worldwide) but if left untreated can be fatal. You might not know this but the famous reggae musician, Bob Marley, died at the age of 36 as a result of an untreated cancer under his toenail.
You should take all forms of skin cancer, including nail related melanoma, very seriously. Early diagnosis and treatment can save your life. If you notice unusual colourations on your feet, toe nails or under the toenails then visit your podiatrist immediately.
What Are The Symptoms
Proper diagnosis of subungual melanoma and other nail related cancers can be difficult because other non- cancerous skin conditions can have similar symptoms. It’s important to visit a podiatrist or doctor as soon as possible if you notice any of the following:
- Dark lines from top to bottom of the nail
- Nail lifting from the nail bed, splitting or bleeding
- Nail dystrophy—deterioration of the nail
- Irregular shaped moles or bruise like marks
If caught early enough, subungual melanoma can be treated with an extremely high success rate. If you ignore the signs and allow the cancerous cells to spread to other parts of the body then the condition can be fatal.
There are conditions such as a nail fungal infection that can present similar symptoms so it is vital to get a definitive diagnosis as quickly as possible. Nail fungal infections can be treated reasonably easily but the longer you leave treatment for melanoma the lower your chances of a positive outcome.
What Is It, What Causes It?
Nail cancer is a melanoma or skin cancer. Skin cancers occur when the skin is damaged by U.V exposure, from the sun or in tanning beds.
The ultra violet light triggers DNA changes and uncontrolled cell growth that can quickly spread throughout the body.
People with fair skin and a family history of melanoma are more likely to develop malignant nail melanoma than people with darker skin.
Nail melanoma can form under the nail bed and on and around the nails. Subungual melanoma occurs under the fingernail or toenail (usually the big toe or thumb). Periungual melanoma typically occurs in the skin around the nail.
You are more likely to develop nail related cancers if you have:
- Significant nail injuries with haematomas
- Dark skin (e.g. African American)
- Extended sun exposure especially when young
- Moles or lesions
- Immunosuppressive conditions, such as HIV
- Personal/family history of melanoma
- Passed the age of 50 years old
Acral lentiginous melanoma is the most common form of melanoma in people of colour. Nail cancers are typically a form of acral lentiginous melanoma.
Whats The Best Treatment?
Treatment depends on how far any cancerous cells have spread beyond the nail cells. Early detection may mean that a simple surgical removal of the nail may be enough.
Amputation of the affected area surgically or the entire digit may be necessary if the cancer has advanced. Chemotherapy and other standard cancer treatments maybe recommended as well.
Early detection makes the critical difference so if you notice any unusual coloration, pigmented lesions, nail streaking or nail damage around the nail bed please visit a podiatrist or GP. Often this colour change or darkening skin resembles normal bruising so you need to be observant. Skin cancer is a killer so do take it seriously.
At Erica Dash podiatry, we’re trained and qualified to provide clinical assessment and a definitive diagnosis for foot and nail conditions that are causing you concern.
Shockwave is a great alternative to treatments such as dry needling if you’re needle phobic and not keen on dry needling. We also have effective treatment offers for kids.