“It is widely known that skin cancer is caused by dangerous effects of the UV rays and being exposed to sun increases the risks of getting melanoma,” says Dr. Stan Green from Specialist Clinics of Australia in Sydney.
However, a less commonly known fact is that skin cancer can appear on virtually any part of your body. Even on the areas that have rarely or “never” been exposed to the sun, such as the genitals, the palms of hands or feet, and underneath the fingernails or toenails.
What types of skin cancer exist?
There are three main types of skin cancer:
- Squamous cell cancer
- Basal cell cancer
What characterises melanoma is that it is a malignant tumour caused by uncontrolled growth of the pigment cells, called melanocytes. It appears mainly on the skin, but could also develop in the bowel, the eyes, genitals and anal area. However, these are much less common than the melanoma of the skin.
What causes skin cancer?
The main cause of skin cancer is linked to sun exposure. However, this is not the sole cause and, for example, the genetic factor also plays an important role.
People with a history of melanoma in their family should be extremely cautious and have their skin checked regularly, as the risk of developing melanoma at some point in their lives is significantly higher for them.
In which body areas can skin appear?
“Although it is very rare – it accounts only for about 1% skin cancer cases in the white population – melanoma can appear in unusual places, such as underneath the toenails and fingernails,” says Dr. Green.
In the case of melanoma of the nail unit, sun exposure is not a factor, and it is believed that it can be provoked by trauma. Considering that, it is most likely to occur in the thumb or the big toe.
In the case of other unusual types of melanoma, its origins are equally uncertain, and are the effect of a DNA error that tells the cells to rapidly multiply.
This is the case with eye melanoma, a very rare case of skin cancer that develops inside the eye. If it starts in the iris, a dark spot may appear; however, if it begins elsewhere, it could only be detected if a specialist examines your eye.
Other rare types of skin cancer are:
- Melanoma of the vulva
- Vaginal melanoma
- Melanoma of the back passage (rectum)
Checking for skin cancer in unusual places
Because skin cancer in usual places may remain undetected (Bob Marley died of skin cancer that developed under his nail), it is extremely important to review your body on a regular basis.
When you’re doing a skin checkup, make sure to take care not only of the most obvious places that get exposed to the UV rays but also inspect places that do not receive constant sun protection, remembering that sun exposure is not the only cause of skin cancer.
With the help of a small handheld mirror, you should carefully examine the genital area, including the anus.
We must get acquainted with our bodies, in order to be able to determine what is normal and what is unusual for ourselves. After all, early diagnosis of skin cancer and quick treatment give us the best chances for healing, especially in case of skin cancer.