Skin Cancer and Nails

When checking the body for signs of skin cancer, many people may think to check only their skin. However, board-certified dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) say it’s important to check the nails, too.

Although rare, skin cancer, including melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — can develop under and around the fingernails and toenails. While anyone can develop melanoma on their nails, it’s more common in older individuals and people of color. A personal or family history of melanoma or previous nail trauma may also be risk factors.

“The good news is that when found early, melanoma — even on the nails — is highly treatable,” says board-certified dermatologist Skylar Souyoul, MD, FAAD. “The best way to find skin cancer on your nails early, when it’s most treatable, is to know what to look for and regularly check your nails.”

When checking your nails for melanoma, Souyoul says to look for the following changes:

A dark streak. This may look like a brown or black band in the nail — often on the thumb or big toe of your dominant hand or foot. However, this dark streak can show up on any nail.

Dark skin next to your nail. When the skin around your nail becomes darker, it could be a sign of advanced melanoma.

Nail lifting from your fingers or toes. When this happens, your nail starts to separate from the nail bed. The white free edge at the top of your nail will start to look longer as the nail lifts.

Nail splitting, which occurs when a nail splits down the middle.

A bump or nodule under your nails. You might also see a band of color on your nail. It could be wide and irregular or dark and narrow.

“Nail melanoma is often diagnosed at a more advanced stage than melanoma on the skin, making it more dangerous for your health,” says Souyoul. “If you notice any changes to your nails, including a new dark band on your nail, make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist.”

 For more information on skin issues and to find a board-certified dermatologist, click here to visit the AAD website.

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