Unexpected places you can get skin cancer

Chances are, by living in Australia you’re pretty sun smart. You know all about slipping on a shirt, slopping on sunscreen and slapping on a hat.

Not all skin cancer is caused by the sun though, and it can show up in some surprising places. Here are the areas on your body to check for any signs of skin problems.

Palms of the hands
Acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM) is a form of skin cancer that appears on the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, or under the nails.

It does not appear to stem from sun exposure and is the leading cause of melanoma in people with darker skin.

Skin cancer here can look like a bruise or an irregular spot. Other warning signs include:

  • a changing spot in or connected to a mole on the hand
  • an irregularly shaped growth on the hand that is changing, growing or has an unusual colour
  • a raised, thickened patch on the palm.

Read: Spotting the signs of skin cancer

Soles of the feet
Cancer on the feet is often treatable in the early stages. However, the symptoms are not easily noticeable, which can cause a delay in diagnosis.

It typically starts as a flat dark patch that is clearly distinct from the skin around it, but it may sometimes be reddish or orange in colour.

Melanoma on the feet can also appear as:

  • pinkish-red spot or growth
  • new spot or growth where you injured your foot
  • rapidly growing mass on your foot, especially where you once injured your foot
  • non-healing sore on your foot (or a sore that heals and returns)
  • sore that looks like a diabetic ulcer.

Sometimes, melanoma on the foot feels painful, bleeds, or itches, but not always. The bleeding tends to stop and start.

Under a nail
Subungual melanoma is most commonly found in the thumbs and big toes.

Unlike many melanomas, subungual melanoma is not caused by sun exposure, past injuries could be a factor, but the exact cause is not known.

It usually appears as a brown or black streak under the nail, usually larger than 3mm. Typically the marks gradually increase in size but don’t disappear or change colour as a bruise would.

Unlike a nail infection or trauma to the nails, subungual melanoma typically affects one nail at a time.

Remove nail polish once in a while so you can check your nails for changes.

Look out for things such as:

  • nail separating or lifting from the nail bed
  • nail brittleness and cracking
  • a nodule underneath the nail
  • darkening of the skin next to the nail.

On an eyelid
It’s hard to layer on sunscreen in this area so people often skip it. Unfortunately, it’s a common place to develop skin cancer from repeated sun exposure.

Read: Don’t make these sunscreen mistakes

Typically, it’s easy to spot when looking in the mirror and removal by surgery has a high success rate when caught early.

As well as wearing sunscreen, always wear sunglasses that block 99-100 per cent of UV rays.

Your scalp is a common area that’s exposed to the sun. Approximately 13 per cent of skin cancers are on the scalp.

Scalp melanomas have been shown to be more lethal than other melanomas, with one study showing scalp and neck melanomas deaths were nearly twice as common compared to melanomas elsewhere on the body.

Things to look out for include:

  • a rough, scaly patch that can quickly become raised, firm, red or crusty
  • any sores that are tender when pressed
  • brown or black spots with darker irregular colours and borders
  • a firm pink or red lump
  • unusual looking patches of skin that bleed easily.

It can be hard to check your scalp yourself, it may be worth asking a partner or friend, or even your hairdresser the next time you’re having a haircut.

Inside your ear
Left untreated, skin cancer on the outside of the ear (squamous or basal cell) can spread to the inside of your ear. This includes the ear canal that runs from your outer ear to the tiny bones in your middle ear to the hair-like nerves in your inner ear that send signals to your brain, and the temporal bone that encases it all.

Signs of skin cancer in the outer ear include:

  • scaly patches of skin that remain, even after moisturising
  • pearly white lumps under the skin
  • skin ulcers that bleed.

Signs of skin cancer in the middle ear include:

  • discharge from the ear, which may be bloody (most common symptom)
  • hearing loss
  • ear pain
  • numbness on the affected side of the head.

Signs of skin cancer in the inner ear include:

  • ear pain
  • dizziness
  • hearing loss
  • ringing in ears
  • headache.

Skin cancer of the tongue often presents as flat, hard, white patches that you can’t scrape off. Tingling, loss of feeling, or a lump or sore that won’t go away are also common symptoms.

It’s more common in those who use tobacco products or drink a lot of alcohol.

Your lower lip is the most common spot around the mouth for skin cancer. In fact, it’s 12 times more likely to be affected than your top lip.

The good news is that it’s easy to see so people often get it treated early.

Use a lip product with sun protection when you go outside.

Read: Early detection tools the key in battle with killer cancer

Uveal or intraocular melanoma is a rare cancer that often presents as a dark spot in the iris. In some cases, patients have no symptoms, or they may be difficult to spot since the cancer is in a part of the eye that isn’t visible.

When symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • blind spots or a reduced field of vision
  • blurred or low vision
  • changes to the position of the eye in the eye socket
  • changes to the size or shape of the pupil
  • double vision
  • eye pain
  • floaters (spots) or flashes of light in your field of vision.

Whites of the eye
Conjunctival melanoma is a cancerous growth on the conjunctiva, the clear membrane that covers the surface of the eye and inner eyelid. It often appears as a dark or red spot in the white of your eye.

Do you regularly check your body for unusual symptoms? Why not share how you ensure you’re fully sun protected in the comments section below?

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.
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