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Tips for checking nails for melanoma

When checking for skin cancer, many people focus on their skin. However, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) is reminding patients that it is important to check their nails as well. While rare, the AAD notes skin cancer, including melanoma, can form under and around fingernails and toenails.

Developing melanoma around the nails is more common in older patients and people with skin of colour, but the AAD said personal or family history of melanoma, as well as nail trauma, can be risk factors.

If detected early, melanoma around the nails is treatable. The AAD suggests that the best way for patients to detect skin cancer around their nails is for them to know what to look for and to regularly check their nails.

With May being skin cancer awareness month in both Canada and the U.S., the AAD developed a list of the features patients should check on their nails when conducting melanoma screening. The AAD recommends patients look for the following changes:

  • A dark streak – This could look like a brown or black band in the nail. It is often found on the patient’s thumb or big toe of their dominant hand or foot but can develop on any nail.

  • Dark skin next to the nail – If the skin around the patient’s nail becomes darker, it could be an indication of advanced melanoma.

  • Nail lifting from the fingers or toes – When the nail starts to separate from the nail bed the white free edge at the top of the nail will start to look longer as the nail lifts.

  • Nail splitting – This happens when a nail splits in the middle.

  • Bump or nodule under the nail – The patient may develop a band of colour on their nail. The band 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 [the patient’s] health,” said Dr. Skylar Souyoul, a dermatologist in Norwell, Mass., in a press release. “If [patients] notice any changes to [their] nails, including a new dark band on [the] nail, [they should] make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist.”

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