Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S., and melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Although it accounts for just 2% of all skin cancers, melanoma causes the most deaths from skin cancer. Melanomas, like other skin cancers, are most treatable when caught at their earliest stages before the cancer has spread.1,2
Exposure to UV light, whether by the sun or in tanning beds, is a major risk factor for melanoma, so it may come as no surprise that melanomas are often found on the parts of the body that get direct sun, like the face, arms, and legs. However, there are some less obvious places where melanoma may be hiding, including:
Melanoma can develop under fingernails or toenails. Women who frequently get gel manicures, which are hardened with UV lamps, may be at increased risk. Because melanoma can hide under nails, it’s important to remove any nail polish before your doctor checks your skin.
You may think the scalp is only a target for melanoma for people who are bald or have thinning hair, but in fact, melanoma can hide even under those with long tresses. The American Cancer Society recommends using a comb and hairdryer to part hair and inspect the scalp.
Feet and toes
Don’t forget to check your feet, including the soles of the feet and in between the toes. Melanoma can occur on these surfaces of the skin.
Ears are another location melanoma may appear, including on the pinna (the large fleshy part) or the space between the ear and the scalp.
Melanoma can even show up in places where the sun doesn’t shine, like the crease between the buttocks. Use a hand mirror to check for any unusual spots.
The eyelids can be vulnerable to melanoma, too. Before going for a check-up with your doctor, remove any makeup that might camouflage suspicious spots.
Behind a tattoo
Some people get tattoos to cover moles or birthmarks, however, the ink can make it more difficult to spot melanomas. Tattoo ink does not increase a person’s risk of melanoma, but removal of the tattoo with laser devices can be problematic if a melanoma is hiding beneath the ink.3-5
What to look for: the ABCDE’s
Many people have heard they should look for the ABCDE’s of skin cancer. As a review, it stands for:
- A – Asymmetrical shape, like moles that are irregular or not symmetrical
- B – Border, moles that have an unclear or unusual border
- C – Color, especially the presence of more than one color in a mole
- D – Diameter, moles that are larger than 6 mm (about the size of a pencil eraser)
- E – Evolution, which involves any changes to a mole over time6
The American Cancer Society recommends getting regular skin checks by a doctor, like a dermatologist who specializes in skin conditions, as well as performing monthly self-checks. Self-examinations are best conducted in a well-lit room and in front of a mirror. In addition, a hand mirror is needed to view some areas of the body, or you can ask a loved one to help.2