We all know to check for melanoma and other skin cancers in the obvious places like the back, face, legs and arms, but you’d be surprised where else they can appear.
Not all melanoma is caused by sun exposure: in fact, melanoma can appear in areas that are out of sight – and therefore often out of mind. Although these ‘hidden’ melanomas are fairly rare, they can be even more dangerous because they’re less likely to be caught early – when they’re most treatable.
Here are the 8 places you might not expect to find skin cancer – all the more reason to be vigilant and check your skin regularly.
Fingernails & toenails
While rare, melanoma under the nail bed does happen. Bob Marley died of melanoma on his toenail at age 36. Also known as subungual melanoma, it’s more prevalent on thumbs or big toes, and often appears as a brown or black streak that doesn’t disappear over time.
Look out for:
Unlike most skin cancer, subungual melanoma isn’t usually caused by the sun. A telltale sign is that it only occurs on one nail at a time. Fungal infections and bruises can also look similar, so ask your GP or your MoleMap Melanographer if you’re concerned.
On the scalp
Melanoma of the scalp is easily hidden by hair and symptoms might not appear until it’s more advanced. Scalp melanomas tend to be more aggressive and lethal than other melanomas2, which could partly be due to a delay in diagnosis (because they’re so often hidden by hair).
Look out for: Early skin cancers may look like a rough scaly pink patch. Melanoma can be quite varied, but usually appears as a brownish or black spot with darker, irregular colours and borders (see what to look for).
How to check the scalp: Ask a family member or friend to use a blow dryer and comb to part the hair and examine your scalp – and take photos of any spots they see. It’s also important to have a head-to-toe check every year by skin cancer detection experts, who will check the areas that you can’t see yourself, such as the scalp, ears and neck.
The nose and mouth
Again, this is fairly rare, but again, it can happen. Known as mucosal melanoma, it’s very hard to diagnose as some symptoms are similar to other conditions.
Watch out for: nose bleeds, a bleeding lump, ulcers (that don’t go away), losing your sense of smell or feeling like your nasal passages are obstructed, difficulty swallowing, a discoloured area inside the mouth, or dentures that stop fitting properly. If you experience any of these symptoms, see your GP straight away.
Melanoma can develop in the lining or one of the coatings of the eye. It may appear as a dark spot or you might feel scratchiness under the lid. These can also be symptoms of other eye conditions, so again, if you’re experiencing these symptoms, see your doctor or an eye specialist.
Melanoma that starts in the oesophagus is extremely rare, but unfortunately there are no early signs. In later stages, a tumour may cause difficulty swallowing, pain or bleeding or an urge to regurgitate food.
The vaginal area
The symptoms of vaginal or vulvar melanoma are similar to symptoms of other infections, but usually there is a telltale sign of a mole that’s changing in this area (see what to look for).
Watch out for: bleeding, itching, pain during intercourse or shortly afterwards, an unusual discharge, a noticeable mass or discoloration in the vulva (the external part of female genitals). If any of these symptoms sound familiar, please advise your GP or MoleMap Melanographer as soon as possible.
Also known as mucosal melanoma, melanoma of the anus can be misdiagnosed as hemorrhoids because the symptoms are the same or very similar. The most common symptom is rectal bleeding, but other symptoms include pain in the area, diarrhea, constipation or an obvious mass. Many of these can also be signs of bowel cancer, so it pays to see your GP immediately if you have any of the above symptoms.
The urinary tract
Again this is very rare, but also hard to diagnose. There are no signs of early stage melanoma of the urethra. In advanced stages, you might have blood in the urine, pain when urinating, needing to urinate frequently or feeling the need to go, but only passing small amounts of urine. Some of these symptoms can also occur during urinary tract infections, so see your doctor if you’re concerned.
Check every 3 months. Map every year.
We recommend checking your skin regularly yourself (even better, get a friend or family member to check for you) every three months – a good way to remember is at the start of each season. Ask them to check your scalp, ears, neck and back as well. See what to look for here.
1. www.healthline.com/health/subungual-melanoma 2. http://www.med.unc.edu/www/newsarchive/2008/april/most-lethal-melanomas-are-on-scalp-and-neck
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