Generally moles, skin tags and freckles get checked by a doctor or dermatologist, but a small spot under your nail could be just as dangerous. It could be a malignant melanoma of the nail bed, the skin under the nail. The appearance often is a brown line across the nail; while this may seem like nothing, if it wasn’t there before, check it out. It may start as a light line and then it eventually starts getting wider, and the middle of it starts to get black. Don’t be nonchalant and assume it’s nothing if you know you didn’t squeeze, hammer or injure your hand or foot. It can be the early development of a melanoma. While most toenail tumours are not life threatening (even if they are painful), some turn out to be malignant. It is important to remember that the skin under our fingernails and toenails is also susceptible to malignant tumours.
Areas Most Affected
The most common malignant tumours or melanomas of the nail bed tend to affect the thumb, index finger, and big toe, more often than they strike any other toe or finger. The easiest warning sign to spot is a dark, longitudinal stripe running from the nail fold to the tip of the nail. The appearance of this kind of stripe on your nail should be cause for particular concern, if there is cancer in your family’s medical history. Other warning signs to look out for include:
- – If the stripe is very dark.
- – If there are blurred borders.
- – If there are changes in a stripe that’s been there.
- – A patient’s medical history is a factor as well.
Who is at Risk?
Nail cancer is more common in persons of African descent, but can occur with anyone. Strangely, it is only now I’ve discovered that it is the said thing that Bob Marley died from. Unwilling for religious reasons to heed his doctor’s recommendation, that the toe be amputated, Marley sought other, less medically sound remedies. His toenail cancer spread, and eventually took his life at a young age, and in a relatively short period of time.
How is it Diagnosed/Treated?
While most discoloured nails or nail stripes are not cancer, it is something that you should have checked out by a dermatologist, since like most cancers, early detection and treatment increase your chances for a cure. Further signs to look for include red streaks that do not go away. Warts around your nail bed that won’t go away with treatment, may also be another sign of cancer. In addition, if you notice other changes in your nails, such as thickening; the nail lifting from the nail bed; grooves in your nails or pain; you should check a dermatologist. Nail cancer accounts for about 5 percent of all diagnosed melanomas but account for 30 to 40 percent of skin cancer in people of colour. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “Sun exposure may cause permanent damage to the nail’s growth centre, called the matrix especially the pale, ‘half-moon’ portion of the matrix visible at the base of the nail plate. Cumulative sun exposure may also permanently harm the nail bed and nail folds, the skin around the cuticle accelerating their aging process and increasing the risk of skin cancer.” Treatment depends on the stage of cancer. A biospy is done for confirmation, and can range from removing the melanoma and tissue around it, to amputation of the tip of the digit. or the whole digit.
How to Protect Your Nails
Just as your face and other exposed areas need to be protected from exposure to the sun, so do your nails. Some nail polishes now contain UV filters. The Skin Cancer Foundation also suggests the following to help protect the health of your nails:
- – Moisturise nail area daily
- – If you use nail polish, take a break periodically through the year for a total of 1 to 3 months
- – If you get manicures, check out the salon to make sure equipment is clean and sterilised
When doing self-exams, you should include both your fingernails and toenails and pay attention to any changes.
Your feet mirror your general health . . . cherish them!