The scalp. The nail beds. The bottoms of the feet. The eyes and eyelids.
What do all of these body parts have in common? They aren’t typical places where you’d think to look for skin cancer. But melanoma and other forms of skin cancer can appear anywhere on the body that has pigment-producing cells (melanocytes), not just in highly exposed areas like the face, arms and back.
You may think you are being proactive by doing a skin self check for signs of melanoma, but this insidious and deadly disease can be hard to spot if it occurs in an unlikely place. A professional skin cancer screening by a dermatologist or their P.A., is the most reliable way to spot melanomas and other skin cancers.
During a skin cancer screening, your dermatologist will perform a thorough and extensive examination of the entire surface of your skin, searching for melanomas and other, less dangerous skin cancers such as basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas.
Some of the areas the doctor will check include these unlikely places where hidden cancers can lie:
Scalp melanomas are some of the deadliest melanomas, perhaps because they are typically hidden by hair and not spotted until the cancer is very advanced. Also, the scalp has a large number of blood vessels and lymphatics, making it fertile ground for cancer to grow. An irregular mole on your scalp can be very difficult to identify on your own. If you or your hairdresser spot something unusual on your scalp, have it checked by a dermatologist.
The eyelids are a common site for non-melanoma skin cancers (between 5 and 10 percent of basal and squamous cell carcinomas occur on the eyelid). Melanomas can form here as well, but more rarely. Most cancers of the eyelid occur on the lower lid (44%).
Many people aren’t aware that melanomas can form inside the eyeball itself. Fairly rare, melanoma of the eye is the most common type of intraocular cancer found in adults. It forms in the uvea, the pigmented area of the eye which contains the iris, the choroid (the pigmented vascular layer of the eyeball found between the retina and the sclera) and the ciliary body (tissue connecting the iris to the choroid). A dermatologist may be able to spot a melanoma of the iris, which often shows up as a slow-growing dark spot in the colored portion of the eye. Melanoma of the choroid or ciliary body will likely need to be diagnosed by an ophthalmologist.
Under the nails
Melanoma of the nails, called subungual melanoma, can develop in the nail bed tissue located underneath the nails. Subungual melanomas account for about 2% of all melanomas, and they can be found on either fingers or toes. They often appear as a brown or black vertical line under the nail that spreads slowly over time. Many people mistake subungual melanomas for a bruise or a fungal infection, but, unlike infections, they usually only affect one nail at a time, and they do not grow out with the nail as a bruise does. If you regularly paint your nails or wear acrylics, nail wraps or gel nails, be sure to remove these treatments before a skin cancer screening appointment so your dermatologist can look for subungual melanomas.
The bottom of the feet
The most common cancers of the foot are skin cancers, and melanomas can occur on the bottom of the foot even though this is an area that does not receive much sun exposure. Skin cancer on the bottom of the foot can masquerade as a number of minor conditions, including benign moles, blood blisters, plantar warts, ulcers, splinters or bruises.
Other not-so-common areas where melanomas can appear include the armpits, palms, genitals, between the toes, and behind or inside the ears. They are not limited to fair-skinned people, either. Melanomas occurring on African-Americans or other people with darker complexions are more likely to present on a part of the body not routinely exposed to the sun.
Regular skin care checks by a dermatologist are your best chance of catching and treating melanoma early. Between appointments, don’t hesitate to see your doctor about any potential signs of skin cancer.
If you would like to make an appointment for a skin cancer screening for yourself or someone you love, call us today at Arizona Dermatology.