Skin Cancer And Your Feet

May is Skin Cancer Awareness month.   People of all skin colours and ethnicity should be aware of the signs and symptoms of skin cancer.  We often forget to give our feet the same care we give to other parts of our body.  When it comes skin cancer, this is especially problematic since skin cancer in the feet is often not detected until the later stages and the outcome is poor.

Three Types of Skin Cancer

Malignant Melanoma  is the most serious type.  A change in the appearance of a mole or pigmented area is an early sign.

Malignant melanoma. Photo courtesy of National Cancer Institute.

Look for a change in size, shape, and colour.  Watch for irregular, ragged edges, a mole that has more than one colour, is asymmetrical, oozing, bleeding or feels itchy.  While some melanomas may be tiny, most are larger than 6 millimeters.  In dark-skinned people, it usually occurs under the fingernails, the palms of the hands, under the toenails or on the soles of the foot.

In its early stage, Squamous Cell Carcinoma may appear as a small, scaly bump or plaque which may be inflamed.  It may look like a callus and have a history of repeated bleeding or cracking.

Common symptoms of basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. Photo courtesy of National Cancer Institute.

It may resemble a plantar wart, fungal infection, eczema, or a skin ulcer that doesn’t heal.  According to the National Cancer Institute, in dark-skinned people this cancer usually occurs in areas that are not exposed to the sun, such as the feet.   In light-skinned people, it is more common on the head, face, neck and ears.

Basal Cell Skin Cancer usually occurs on areas that are exposed to the sun.  The National Cancer Institute describes it as a bump that is small, shiny, pale or waxy.

It may also be firm and red or appear as a sore or lump that bleeds or develops a crust or scab.  Alternatively, it may show up as a scaly, itchy, tender spot.

Common symptoms of basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. Photo courtesy of National Cancer Institute.

Risk Factors

  • For all types of skin cancer, exposure to sunlight is a major risk factor.  Having even one blistering sunburn increases the risk.  Redhead or blonde, grey or blue-eyed, fair-skinned people have a higher risk of sunburn but dark-skinned and people who tan well are also at risk because of total lifetime sun exposure.
  • Having a family history of skin cancer increases the risk as does a personal history of earlier skin cancer.
  • Having a large number (over 50) of common moles is a risk factor.
  • Old scars, inflammation, burns, skin ulcers as well as exposure to arsenic increase the risk for squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma.

    Common symptoms of basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. Photo courtesy of National Cancer Institute.

Protect Your Feet

The single, most effective way to prevent skin cancer in the feet is to avoid sun exposure, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.  For most of us, this is unrealistic as is keeping the feet covered.

A broad-spectrum sunscreen applied diligently and liberally to all areas of exposed skin is the most practical solution to sun protection.  Re-apply every two hours and don’t forget the kids who may need to re-apply more often if they have been in the water.

Check Your Feet

It is important to check your feet daily. Look carefully at all areas, including between the toes, the soles of the feet and the nail bed underneath the nails. Make note of any changes to existing moles or the appearance of new moles and other skin markings.  The same applies to skin tags.  If needed, use a mirror held under the foot to check the soles of the feet.  Similarly, ask someone to help you check areas that are difficult to see.  If you find anything suspicious or worrisome, see your doctor immediately.

The warm weather is finally here.  Enjoy it!  But remember to be kind to your feet!

Copyright Terry McDermott. May not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission of author