Melanoma is a skin cancer that begins in the cells producing pigmentation, or coloration. Malignant melanoma is another term for the condition as it spreads to other areas of the body and grows below the skin surface. Many other types of cancer affect specific age groups, but melanoma is found in people of all ages.
Melanoma of the foot and ankle is often not detected in its earliest stage, when treatments are most effective. Rather, melanoma of the foot or ankle is diagnosed in an advanced stage with less available treatments and a higher mortality rate. Keep in mind that prevention and early detection are crucial for the feet and other parts of the body.
Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning beds is the most common cause of melanoma. Short periods of exposure to intense UV radiation and less radiation over long periods can lead to overexposure.
Melanoma can affect anyone, but some risk factors include:
Melanoma can develop anywhere on the skin, even if not exposed to the sun. This condition normally resembles a spot on the skin that most often appears as brown, black or blue. In some instances, the skin spot can be mostly red or white. Not all areas of skin discoloration are melanoma.
Four signs patients should look for when checking for moles and other skin spots can be remembered as the ABCDs of melanoma:
Asymmetry. Melanoma is often asymmetric, meaning one half is shaped differently than the other half.
Border irregularity. The border, or edge is usually ragged, notched or blurred, indicating melanoma.
Color. Melanoma most often consists of a color combination instead of a single, solid color.
Diameter. The diameter of melanoma enlarges, but moles remain small. Patients should seek care for a spot larger than 5 millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser).
Consult Dr. Radovic immediately if any of these signs are present on the foot. Discoloration of any size beneath the toenail is also cause for concern, unless the discoloration was caused by trauma, for example jamming a toe or dropping something on it.
Dr. Radovic will ask the patient a series of questions to diagnose melanoma. Some questions include: How recently did the spot deveop? Have there been any noticeable changes in size or color? If so, how rapidly have these changes occurred?
The spot will then be examined by Dr. Radovic to determine if a biopsy is needed. If the spot is biopsied and reveals melanoma, Dr. Radovic will discuss a treatment plan.
People of all age groups should practice prevention strategies that help in early detection or prevention of melanoma, to initiate an early treatment plan.
General precautions, and precautions to prevent melanoma of the foot and ankle include:
Wear water shoes or shoes and socks. Sandals do not provide skin protection.
Apply sunblock generously to areas not covered by clothing or shoes. Make sure to use sunblock on the soles and the tops of feet.
Visually inspect all parts of the feet everyday, including the soles, beneath the toenails and between the toes.
If nail polish is worn, it should be removed on occasion to inspect the skin beneath the toenails.
Avoid sun exposure during peak hours - from 10 AM to 4 PM, beginning at birth. UV radiation is harmful at any age, but it is most damaging to children and adolescents.
Wear sunglasses that provide maximum protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
Keep in mind that early detection is the key to treating malignant melanoma. Consult Dr. Radovic immediately if you notice any of the ABCD signs, or if the skin underneath the toenails is dicolored and unrelated to trauma.