Skin Cancer and Feet
When people usually think about cancer, there are various other body parts that probably come to mind before the feet. Lung, breast, and prostate cancers may have prominent exposure, but melanoma in a foot is also an extremely serious matter.
Lesions in the feet are actually quite rare. By the time lesions develop in the lower limb, however, the situation is pretty bad—and especially if one is fast-changing or there is spontaneous bleeding. This might seem counter-intuitive, but painless lesions or potentially-cancerous marks are scary. That might make more sense when you consider the fact that pain can point us in the right direction of what is actually wrong. No pain—if neuropathy isn’t an issue—is concerning.
When diagnosed and treated early, melanoma—whether in the feet or elsewhere—is a treatable form of cancer that begins in melanocytes, which are found in skin tissue. The key element of successful treatment is that the cancer has to be treated at the earliest possible stage, which makes detection essential.
What Causes Melanoma and How Can You Recognize it?
Typically, skin cancer is associated with harmful ultraviolet (UV) light, especially when it comes from the sun. Studies consistently show that intense, irregular exposure to sunlight leads to an increased risk of melanoma. There are other causes as well, like chronic inflammation, exposure to carcinogenic materials, chronic ulcers and long-standing warts, and even simply inherited traits.
The initial sign of this condition is typically a change in shape, color, feel, or size of an existing mole. Additionally, unusual blemishes, lumps, markings, or sores on the surface of the skin are always worth investigating. In looking at melanoma, it’s important to note that most people have moles on their skin, and a majority of these are harmless. That said, these marks should still be monitored.
When observing a mole, it should raise a red flag if you note a blue-black area. Other mole traits to be aware of can be linked to the acronym ABCDE and include:
- Asymmetry – Half of the mole or lesion is not a mirror image of the other half.
- Border – Moles that have blurred, ragged, or irregular borders are cause for concern.
- Color – Multiple colors within the same mole is a potential sign of melanoma.
- Diameter – When the diameter of a mole is greater than the size of a pencil-tip eraser (5mm), have it checked out.
- Evolving – A mole that changes color, shape, or size should definitely be investigated.
Other warning signs include sores that do not heal, new swelling or redness beyond a mole’s border, or changes in the surface (oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a nodule or bump).
These moles can be located anywhere on the foot, but are most commonly found on the sole or under a toenail. For this reason, it is important to make an appointment when you notice a case of black toenails. It might not be a major issue (and just blood pooled under the nail), but it could potentially be a rare case of malignant melanoma.
Biopsy and Diagnosis
When it comes to diagnosing foot melanoma, a biopsy is standard procedure. There are various types of biopsies, including skin samples, shaving, punch, and incisional and excisional biopsies. A punch biopsy uses a tool similar to a cookie cutter to press down and retrieve a sample of all the skin layers. Incisional and excisional biopsies are used to remove an entire tumor.
Those may sound painful, but this is not the case! (Even if they did hurt a little, wouldn’t it still be worth it to potentially save your life?)
Once the biopsy has been taken, you can typically expect results back in 3-5 days. These results will determine our path going forward.
Can Melanoma be Treated and Prevented?
This cancer can be treated and sometimes prevented, but it is important to remember that early detection is vital for the success of treatment. (We cannot emphasize this enough!)
The primary method of caring for the condition is surgery to remove cancerous tumors. At this time, this is considered to be effective for early-stage melanomas, but those in more advanced stages may require immunotherapy, chemotherapy, or other methods.
Preventing skin cancer from developing in the first place is the best practice. Tips to help with this include:
- Cover your feet from harsh UV light with water shoes or socks and regular shoes. Sandals do not offer the same level of protection.
- Wear sunscreen, even on your feet! Apply to the entire foot and not just the top.
- Inspect your feet on a daily basis, taking note of any moles so you can be aware if they change in color, size, or shape.
Cancer is a serious matter—when Dr. Leibovitz stops joking around, you know this is the case—and we want you to be able to get the treatment you need at the earliest possible time. If you find any moles, spots, or any other suspicious-looking marks on your feet, contact our office and come see us ASAP!