While melanomas often develop on areas of the body that get the most sun exposure (such as the neck, face, and ears), many of our community members have been diagnosed with melanoma in less common areas. According to our Skin Cancer in America 2017 survey, 58% of patients noticed something suspicious on their skin before their melanoma was diagnosed by a doctor, and over two-thirds of skin cancer patients had a mole meeting the ABCDEs for possible skin cancer. To learn more about where and how melanoma develops, this month, we asked our community members, “Where on your body was your melanoma discovered?”
Melanoma on the face, neck, or scalp
“Left face cheek” ~ “Neck” ~ “Left temple” ~ “Left cheek on face” ~ “My face. Right cheek twice” ~ “Below my lower lip.” ~ “Forehead” ~ “Scalp” ~ “My face...My left cheek...Dealing with it now.”
As described by many of our community members, melanomas often occur on the face, neck, and scalp. However, did you know that in the United States, melanoma is more common on the left-side of the body? In describing their skin cancer experiences, many of our community members shared that their melanoma was discovered on the left side of their head or neck. Because drivers in the US sit on the left side of the car, the left-side exposure to UV is approximately 20-fold stronger than the right-side.1 As a result, melanomas are more common on the left-side of the body, including the left side of the head and neck.
Melanoma on the arm or hand
“Arm” ~ “My husband’s forearm” ~ “Outer upper left arm, just below my shoulder” ~ “Back of my left arm” ~ “Wrist” ~ “Upper left arm” ~ “Back of hand”
Several community members have been diagnosed with melanoma on their arm or hand. Like the head and neck, these areas typically get the most UV exposure from the sun, leading to higher rates of melanoma on the arms and hands. Even during the fall and winter months, it’s important to protect yourself from UV rays, especially when you’re outside in the snow. Fortunately, the arms and hands are some of the easiest areas to self-examine for any skin changes, especially if you use a mirror to look at the back of the arms.
Melanoma on the chest, back, or abdomen
“Chest” ~ “Abdomen” ~ “Upper middle back” ~ “Left breast” ~ “Back” ~ “My husband’s back, my shoulder” ~ “His back” ~ “My stomach and that never sees the sun.” ~ “Mole on my back” ~ “Two places on my abdomen.”
Many of our community members have been diagnosed with melanoma on their chest, back, or abdomen. For some people, these melanoma presented as abnormal moles (which may be a type of melanoma called superficial spreading melanoma), whereas some patients notice a firm, dome-shaped bump (nodular melanoma) or large tan patch (lentigo maligna melanoma). Melanomas on the back can be more difficult to see and find on your own, so be sure to schedule regular full-body skin exams with your healthcare provider.
Melanoma on the leg
“Thigh” ~ “Back of my upper leg!” ~ “Back of right thigh, just behind and above the knee area. About the size of a pencil eraser.” ~ “Hip!” ~ “My knee.” ~ “Left buttock”
For many of our community members, their melanoma was detected somewhere on the leg. Melanomas on the back of the thigh and buttocks can be difficult to spot on your own, but using a hand-mirror to examine these hidden areas can help. Like melanoma on other parts of the body, melanomas on the leg will be treated based on the type, stage, and exact location of the tumor. If your healthcare provider decides to treat your melanoma through excision (“cutting out”), you may be concerned about lingering scars. If you are dealing with skin cancer scaring, remember that scars can a year or two to fully heal, and that surgical and non-surgical options may be available to lessen the appearance.
Melanoma on the foot
“Top of my foot” ~ “Under my big toenail” ~ “Right 4th toe” ~ “Top of my left foot”
For some of you, your melanoma was found on your foot- either on the surface of the foot or under the nail. Melanoma of the nails (aka subungual melanoma) is a rare form of melanoma, and more often affects the fingernails (60% of cases), rather than the toenails (40% of cases). Because melanomas can develop on the feet, it’s important to check the nails, between the toes, and the soles of the feet for any changes.2
“Right forearm, left shoulder, left thigh and two on the right thigh. Six melanomas total. And by the age of 31.” ~ “Left cheek just under my eye and the outside of my left heel.” ~ “Back and under my right eye” ~ “Right earlobe, 2 spots on middle of my back, right breast, right side of my stomach, right side neck lymph nodes” ~ “Bottom of my foot and on my scalp” ~ “Chest and lower back by hip.”
For many community members, your melanoma was discovered on multiple parts of your body. If you have been diagnosed with multiple melanomas, be sure to examine the places melanomas may be hiding, and use a skin cancer body map to monitor changes in your skin. If you have been previously diagnosed with melanoma, you may also be worried about skin cancer recurrence, which affects between 2% and 10% of melanoma patients. While recurrence (return of cancer following treatment) is different than having skin cancer in multiple locations, it is important for any melanoma patient to be monitored for new cancers. If you have concerns about recurrence or notice changes to your skin, talk to your healthcare provider, and reach out to the skin cancer community to connect with your peers!
Do you check the UV index before leaving the house?