Plantar Melanoma: Skin Cancer on the Underside of the Feet

In the United States, the most common form of cancer is skin cancer. Although there are many types, the most dangerous by far is malignant melanoma. This cancer affects melanocytes, skin cells that produce melanin, and can occur anywhere on the body. Although it’s more common in areas that get a lot of sun exposure, melanoma can strike the feet or under the nails, and even the sole. When this cancer occurs on the bottom of a foot, it is known as plantar melanoma.

Why Plantar Melanoma Is So Dangerous

For any type of malignant melanoma in any location, early detection and treatment is critical. Early stage melanomas can be surgically removed entirely and may cause no further issues, but cancer that has spread beyond the initial site and into surrounding tissues such as lymph nodes can quickly put your life at risk and will require more intense treatment.

When a melanoma forms in a more obvious location, like your face, arms, or shoulders, prompt diagnosis and treatment are much more likely. Plantar melanomas, however, may frequently be missed for months or even years. It could simply be that you don’t notice a problem, or that the problem is misrecognized (or even clinically misdiagnosed) as a wart, fungal infection, benign lesion or cyst, harmless skin thickening, bruising, or other conditions.

The cost of failing to identify the problem in time can be catastrophic, with survival rates (and odds of returning to full health even if treatment is successful) dropping precipitously as time goes on.

Assessing the Risk Factors

In general, malignant melanoma is usually associated with those who have more moles on their skin, as well as higher exposure to sunlight or UV radiation, with fairer-skinned people at much greater risk.

However, melanomas that form in “hidden” areas normally away from the sun, such as the soles of the feet, may be caused by other factors. While a pale-skinned person is much likelier to get skin cancer in general, plantar melanomas may affect people of different skin colors at relatively even rates. That may pose an even greater barrier to accurate diagnosis for those with darker skin.

Identifying Melanoma: Know Your ABC(DE)s

We strongly encourage all our patients to engage in regular foot checks to help identify potential problems and prevent them from getting worse. When attempting to assess whether a particular mole or lesion is more likely to be cancerous, ask yourself the ABCDE questions:

  • Asymmetry. Does one end of the lesion look different from the other?
  • Border. Is the edge of the lesion blurry or irregular?
  • Color. Does the shade of color vary throughout the mark?
  • Diameter. Is the lesion bigger than 6mm across?
  • Evolution. Has the lesion changed size, shape, or color over time?

The more you answered “yes” to these questions, the more likely the spot could indicate cancer.

Daily foot checks, in combination with regular visits to our office for professional evaluations, plays a vital role in screening for serious problems such as plantar melanoma and getting you the treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you have any unexplained marks on your feet, please call Dr. Harvey Danciger today at 760-568-0108. You can also request an appointment online via our contact form.

Dr. Harvey Danciger
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Dr. Harvey Danciger is a podiatrist and foot surgeon in Palm Desert, CA specializing in the foot and ankle