How to Detect Skin Cancer on Your Feet

Skin cancer of the foot is not always about sun exposure

With the hot months of the summer in mid-swing, everyone's talking about skin cancer, so I wanted to call your attention to the fact that you could have skin cancer on your feet and not experience any kind of tell-tale foot pain.

Even if you have regular skin checks to rule out skin cancer, many examinations forget the delicate skin on the tops and bottoms of your feet.

Skin cancer on your feet is a little different than on the rest of your body, as it’s more commonly the result of a virus than exposure to the sun (especially when it manifests on the bottom of your feet.) When you come in for a visit to the office, I always look out for unusual skin patches on the foot, so it’s often a podiatrist like myself, rather than a dermatologist, that diagnoses this condition.

If you are doing a home skin cancer exam (which I highly recommend), you should know the following common features of skin cancers of the feet:

  • Feet that keep cracking, itching or bleeding (cancer may have been present for a while but, since it is painless, these signs may be the only recognizable manifestation.)
  • Non-healing sores, bumps that crack and/or bleed, nodules with rolled edges or scaly areas may all be indications of skin cancer of the feet.
  • Pearly white bumps and or oozy patches that get crusty could be indicators of basal cell cancers. On the foot, basal cell cancers can often be mistaken for non-cancerous skin tumors or benign ulcers.
  • Small, scaly bumps (possibly appearing to be inflamed) can be a sign of early-squamous cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer of the foot. Painless but itchy, this type of cancer is often misdiagnosed as a plantar wart, fungal infection, eczema, or ulcer. If caught early, it can usually be contained to the skin of the foot but, if left untreated, this cancer can spread and become deadly.

The only way to confirm whether or not an unusual patch of skin on your foot is cancerous is to have your podiatrist perform a skin biopsy, which is a simple procedure in which a small sample of skin is obtained and sent to a lab for a skin pathologist to examine. If the biopsy determines you have skin cancer, your podiatrist will help you determine your next course of action.

Each year, about 2 million Americans are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancers. The best hope for positive outcomes after a diagnosis are early detection and treatment, so if you see any suspicious spots on the skin of your feet or anywhere else on your body, schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately. 

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