Many people think that skin cancer most often develops on the face, scalp, and chest. But, skin cancer can form anywhere that you have skin—including your ankles and feet. In fact, developing skin cancer on your legs and feet can be more dangerous than on other parts of your body because it is often detected later when it’s in a more advanced stage.
Texas has a higher rate of skin cancer than most states because the Lone Star State has a higher UV index. This is a good reason for residents to be extra cautious about sun exposure and more consistent about regular spot checks.
While podiatrists do not directly treat cancers of the foot and ankles that have spread to other parts of the body, we do play an important role in watching for cancerous lesions on the feet and legs during all exams as well as getting these cancers diagnosed and treated. The experienced podiatrists at Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists explain cancer of the feet and ankles, the warning signs, and diagnosis and treatment.
Three Types of Skin Cancer on the Feet
It’s important to know the three major types of skin cancer that can appear on your feet as well as how they differ. Each type of skin cancer affects a different type of skin cell: basal cells, squamous cells, and melanoma.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Thought to be caused by UV exposure, basal cell carcinoma is more common on areas of the skin that are more exposed to the sun. The lesion often appears as a shiny bump on the skin that is pink on people with lighter skin tones and brown or black on people with darker skin tones.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma has been linked to UV exposure. However, this cancer can appear on any part of the body, including rarely exposed skin, including the soles of the feet. While this type of cancer isn’t directly life-threatening, not treating it can lead to very serious complications. This cancer can appear as a raised bump, a flat sore, or a scaly patch of skin that does not resolve over time.
This type of cancer occurs when melanoma, the cells that give pigment to the skin, begin to mutate and replicate quickly. This type of skin cancer can appear on any part of the body, including the feet, and is associated with UV exposure, unusual moles, and having fair skin. The lesion may appear as a mole that’s growing larger, a strange-looking or asymmetrical mole, or a change in a pigmented area of skin.
Signs of Skin Cancer on the Feet
The main sign of skin cancer to watch for is any abnormal growth on your feet and ankles. It’s important to look at your skin regularly, so you are familiar with your moles, freckles, and imperfections. This will help you better identify troubling new developments. When examining your skin, look for the following:
- New growths or spots
- Raised pink or red growths
- Asymmetrical, multi-colored, or growing moles
- A spot that is itchy or painful
- A spot that is pearly or shiny
- Sores that do not heal or that heal but then return
- A rough or scaly spot that does not resolve
- A spot that is bleeding or scabbing for an extended time
- Black or brown vertical lines under the toenail
Causes and Risk Factors of Skin Cancer on the Feet
All three major types of skin cancer are associated with UV light exposure, including light from tanning beds or tanning lamps. However, there are a number of other risk factors for developing skin cancer. These include:
- Family history of skin cancer
- History of severe sun burns or skin that burns easily
- Fair skin
- Light colored eyes (blue or green) and light hair (blond or red)
- History of smoking or family members smoking
- Immune suppression
- Older age
- Exposure to certain chemicals
- Certain medications
It’s also worth noting that men are more at risk of developing skin cancer than women. They are twice as likely to be diagnosed with basal cell carcinomas and three times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinomas than women.
Skin Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
Skin cancer can be diagnosed by a simple biopsy of the affected area of skin. This biopsy is usually performed in the doctor’s office. A piece of the skin is collected using a scalpel, and those skin cells are then sent to a lab for examination and diagnosis.
The treatment of skin cancer on the feet or legs depends on the type of skin cancer as well as its stage. If caught early, skin cancer can be treated through the simple removal of the affected area. In later stages, when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, treatment often involves surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
The Importance of Early Detection
The podiatrists at Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialist know how vital early detection is when diagnosing and treating skin cancer. It can be the difference between a minor out-patient procedure and surgery for an advanced cancer that can be harder to treat and might be deadly. That is why we suggest two different lines of defense: your vigilance when it comes to consistently checking for suspicious spots and talking with your doctor who will check you during routine exams.
If you do notice a suspicious mole, spot, growth, sore, or scab on your feet or ankles, don’t wait to have it examined by a medical professional. At Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists, our doctors are here to help keep you and your feet and ankles healthy.