The ABCDE’s of Spotting Cancer

May 17, 2019

Did you already buy your sunscreen bottle for the summer?

If so, that’s awesome! We encourage all our patients to protect their skin from harmful UV rays during the summer (and throughout the year). After all, skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer out there.

But even if you are planning on carefully practicing sun safety these warmer months (and we certainly hope you are), that is only half the battle. You should also continue being vigilant about your skin using other methods of prevention.

Indeed, throughout the season (and the rest of the year), you should examine your skin head-to-toe once a month, looking for any suspicious “spots.” And that includes checking your feet, too!

Yes – it is absolutely possible to develop skin cancer on the feet. In fact, skin cancer can affect any area on the foot, including the sole or under a nail.

Now, we have some good news and not-so-good-news:

Skin cancer on the feet is treatable when caught in its early stages. However, it can often go unnoticed due to the simple fact that our feet are regularly hiding within socks and shoes, so visible symptoms can easily go undetected – and that’s a problem. If it spreads, it can be life-threatening.

That’s why self-exams are so important. Performing these can help you identify potential skin cancers early, when they can almost always be completely cured. Look for the ABCDE signs of skin cancer, and if you see one or more, make an appointment at our office immediately.

Learn Your ABC … DE’s

Most of us have moles, and most of these moles are harmless. But identifying changes is crucial to catching skin cancer early. The ABCDE method was created as a simple and quick guide for anyone to examine their skin for signs of cancer. The acronym will help you remember the steps you need to take in order to ensure this dangerous condition doesn’t become part of your life.

The first sign of this condition is often a change in the size, shape, color, or texture of an existing mole – while most types of skin cancer have a black or blue-black area, it may appear as a new or unusual mole.

Use the ABCDE’s method when checking your skin.

  • A One-half of the “spot” is not identical to the other.
  • B The “spot” has an irregular, ragged or indistinct border.
  • C The “spot” is more than one color.
  • D The “spot” has a diameter greater than 6 mm.
  • E The “spot” changes in size, shape or color over time.

The ABCDE’s will likely be able to steer you in the right direction (whether or not you need professional diagnosis). If you notice spots with one or more of the ABCDE traits, it has an elevated likelihood of being potentially cancerous.

However, there are also some other warning signs you should keep in mind, including:

  • Sores that do not heal.
  • Redness or new swelling beyond the border of a “spot.”
  • Changes in sensation, like itchiness, tenderness, or pain.
  • Spread of pigmentation from the border of a “spot” to surrounding skin.
  • Changes in the texture of a “spot” including oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a bump or nodule.

If one or more of these symptoms sound familiar to you, then it’s time to come visit our office for a thorough evaluation and accurate diagnosis.

So now that you know how to recognize potential signs of skin cancer, you may be wondering what causes this scary condition in the first place, which takes us to our next point.

Avoid skin cancer

Causes and Risk Factors

A major cause of skin cancer today is ultraviolet (UV) light, whether from the sun or an artificial source such as a tanning bed. This is because UV rays will damage the DNA in your skin cells, which affects how they grow and divide.

But how can you develop skin cancer on the soles of your feet if they are rarely exposed to UV rays?

The role of UV light in skin cancer on non-exposed areas, such as the sole, is actually unclear. However, it is believed that this may result from genetic changes that are different from those in areas exposed to sunlight.

Other known risk factors include:

  • Existing moles
  • Genetic disorders
  • Pale skin, freckles, and light hair
  • Family or personal history of skin cancer

Age is also something to take into consideration. While skin cancer rarely occurs before puberty, the risk of developing this condition does increase with age, peaking at around 50 years.

Treatment and Prevention

Surgery is actually the best form of treatment when it comes to skin cancer that has been diagnosed early. The “spot” in concern can be surgically removed without causing significant functional or aesthetic impairment. However, if the cancer returns, a more radical intervention may be needed.

In more severe cases (in which the cancer has spread or not responded to more conservative treatment methods), radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy, or a combination may be necessary.

As it is true with most other health conditions, prevention is the best course of action. And there are plenty of precautionary steps you can take to make sure this problem doesn’t develop on your feet or ankles, such as:

  • Wearing water shoes, or shoes and socks, instead of going barefoot or wearing flip-flops.
  • Using adequate sunscreen in areas unprotected by clothing or shoes, and applying sunscreen on the soles as well as the tops of feet.
  • Inspecting all areas of the feet daily, including the soles, underneath the toenails, and between the toes.
  • Removing nail polish occasionally, if you wear it, to inspect the skin underneath the toenails. Avoid using UV drying lamps during a pedicure.
  • Avoiding UV radiation between 10 and 4 pm.

It is important to check your feet, including the nails and the soles, for any skin changes, and to seek medical attention if any unusual features appear.

Need Help? We Are Here for You!

As sunny afternoons by the pool and warm beach days with family and friends beckon this summer, be sure to protect your skin against harmful UV rays, and remember that early detection is the best way to prevent and successfully treat skin cancer. So if you ever find any signs of concern, then come visit our office right away.

To schedule an appointment at Heartland Foot & Ankle Associates, just call (309) 661-9975. You can also take advantage of our request form online to have one of our trained staff members reach out to you.