Even Your Feet Can Get Skin Cancer

Skin cancer in the lower extremity may have a very different appearance from those arising on the rest of the body.  Podiatrists are uniquely trained as lower extremity specialists to recognize and treat abnormal conditions as they present themselves on the skin of the lower legs and feet.

Because of this, a podiatrist’s knowledge and clinical training is of extreme importance for patients in the early detection of both benign and malignant skin tumors. Some of the common attributes of cancerous lesions include:

  • Asymmetry – If divided in half, the sides will not match
  • Borders – They look scalloped, uneven or ragged
  • Color – They may have more than one color which may be unevenly distributed
  • Diameter – They can appear wider than a pencil eraser

For other types of skin cancer, look for spontaneous ulcers and non-healing sores, bumps that crack or bleed, nodules with rolled or donut shaped edges, or discrete scaly areas.  If you notice a mole, bump or patch on the skin of a friend or family member that meets any of these criteria, encourage them to see a podiatrist immediately.

What are the Types of Skin Cancer of the Feet?

Skin cancers of the feet have several features in common with most being painless and a history of recurrent cracking, bleeding, or ulceration.  Frequently individuals discover their skin cancer after unrelated ailments near the affected site.  Some of the most common cancers of the lower extremity are:

Basal Cell Carcinoma: Frequently seen on sun-exposed skin surfaces, and with feet being significantly less exposed to the sun, Basal cell carcinoma occurs there less often.  This form of skin cancer is one of the least aggressive cancers in the body.  It will cause local damage, but only rarely spreads beyond the skin.  Basal cell cancers may appear as pearly white bumps or patches which may ooze or crust being similar in appearance to an open sore.  On the skin of the lower legs and feet, basal cell cancers often resemble non-cancerous skin tumors or benign ulcers.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma: This is the most common form of cancer on the skin of feet and is most often confined to the skin and do not spread, similar to basal cell carcinoma.  When advanced, some can become more aggressive and spread throughout the body.  It is important to bring attention to any new developments on your feet to your podiatrist for early diagnosis. Squamous cell carcinoma often begins as a small scaly bump or plaque, which may appear inflamed.  Sometimes there is a history of recurrent cracking or bleeding as well.  Occasionally they begin as a hard projecting callus-like lesion.  Though painless, squamous cell carcinoma may be itchy.  It may also resemble a plantar wart, a fungal infection, eczema, an ulcer, or other common dermatological conditions of the foot.

Malignant Melanoma: This is one of the deadliest skin cancers known and nonsurgical treatments are rarely effective, remaining experimental.  This type of skin cancer must be detected very early to ensure patient survival.  Melanomas may occur on the skin of the feet and on occasion beneath a toenail.  They are found both on the soles and on the tops of your feet.  As a melanoma grows and extends deeper into the skin, it becomes more serious and may spread throughout the body through the lymphatics and blood vessels.

Prevention is Key

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to avoid sunbathing and tanning salons.  Sunscreen should be used frequently and before any prolonged exposure to the sun.  All skin lesions should be checked and if changes are detected in a mole or skin lesion, if you are even mildly suspicious about the appearance of one, you should contact your podiatrist immediately.

People who have had melanoma once are at an increased risk for developing it again.  You should watch your skin carefully and take note of any unusual marks or moles, especially ones that change in shape, size, or color.  Protecting your skin from additional sun damage is very important, as well as scheduling an appointment with your podiatrist.