When checking the body for signs of skin cancer, many people may only think to check their skin. However, it’s important to check the nails, too. Although rare, skin cancer, including melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — can develop under and around the fingernails and toenails. While anyone can develop melanoma on their nails, it’s more common in older individuals and people with skin of color. A personal or family history of melanoma or previous nail trauma may also be risk factors.
The good news is that when found early, melanoma — even on the nails — is highly treatable. The best way to find skin cancer on your nails early, when it’s most treatable, is to know what to look for and regularly check your nails.
How to check your nails for melanoma
When checking for signs of skin cancer, you may only think to check your skin. However, it's important to check your nails, too. Although rare, skin cancer, including melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — can develop under and around your fingernails and toenails. Board-certified dermatologists say to look for these signs when checking your nails for melanoma.
When checking your nails for melanoma, dermatologists recommend looking for the following changes:
A dark streak. This may look like a brown or black band in the nail — often on the thumb or big toe of your dominant hand or foot. However, this dark streak can show up on any nail.
Dark skin next to your nail. When the skin around your nail becomes darker, it could be a sign of advanced melanoma.
Nail lifting from your fingers or toes. When this happens, your nail starts to separate from the nail bed. The white free edge at the top of your nail will start to look longer as the nail lifts.
Nail splitting, which occurs when a nail splits down the middle.
A bump or nodule under your nails. You might also see a band of color on your nail. It could be wide and irregular or dark and narrow.
Nail melanoma is often diagnosed at a more advanced stage than melanoma on the skin, making it more dangerous for your health. If you notice any changes to your nails, including a new dark band on your nail, make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist.
To find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit Find a dermatologist.
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Last updated: 5/7/21