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—like, say, your belly button—are just as important to inspect regularly. One that you probably never thought to check (we never did!) but deserves equal attention from your critical eyes: your toenails.”You may be surprised to know that it’s highly recommended that you routinely inspect your nails without polish for any lurking signs of skin cancer,” says podiatrist Quinton Yeldell of Brooklyn-based foot care company Southern Hospitality. If you’re like me, you keep those buggers polished at all times to hide their true colors (literally and figuratively). But Dr. Yeldell suggests swiping off the polish and giving your nails a thorough once-over every 1-3 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 prevelant in people with darker complexions. And it is very aggressive and spreads quickly, Yeldell says. It generally appears in the big toe, but is possible in any.
So now the important part: what to look for. “Early stages of subungual melanoma are indicated with a pigmented stripe in the nail with no history of trauma,” Yeldell notes. 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. (Example below)
“There is also a high prevalence of individuals that have a pigmented stripe (usually on the big toe) that is NOT cancerous, called longitudinal melanonychia,” Yeldell notes. 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 the size will remain constant over time.While you’re at it, Yeldell advises, 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 nip it in the bud and have it removed before it worsens. Early detection is key.