Screen for Feet!

Peter Wishnie, D.P.M.
Owner of Family Foot & Ankle Specialists in Piscataway & Hillsborough, NJ

In the warm summer months, due to the widely known risks of sun damage, most people apply sunscreen on their face, arms, torso, back and legs.  But what about the feet?  Most people totally forget and unknowingly ignore their feet. It is the same skin as the rest of the body as just as susceptible to the damage of the sun.  Skin cancers such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma can develop with increased sun exposure without sunscreen protection

The most deadly skin condition is melanoma, which fortunately is rare.  Most foot and ankle skin lesions and soft tissue masses are benign and harmless.  This can range from warts, skin tags, age spots, moles, spider veins and the list goes on.  A middle-aged African-American woman, my distant cousin, over ten years ago went to a nail salon a few years ago to get a routine pedicure, as a lot of women and some men do in the warm summer months.  Her nail technician noticed a dark, irregularly shaped spot on the bottom of her foot.  Tragically, a few weeks later she passed away unexpectedly.  The diagnosis was aural litigious melanoma, which can spread to other organs fairly rapidly.  Once this occurs it is often times too late.

Who is at risk?  Anyone, not just fair-skinned individuals, can develop skin cancer.  Yes, fair individuals are more prone to sunburn and developing skin damage, but anyone can develop a skin cancer.  In fact, darker-skinned populations have a higher rate of the deadly effects of skin cancer.  A birthmark or long-standing mole can develop into a melanoma.  Also, those who had a blistering sunburn during childhood; those with increased sun exposure; and people who live in elevated areas are more susceptible to skin cancer.

It is essential for everyone to take precaution to avoid skin cancer.  Avoid tanning salons.  Use sunscreen on the entire body including the feet and ankles. Avoid the midday sun when the sun glare is the highest. Wear a hat, sunglasses, long sleeves and pants when possible if you must be in the sun for a prolonged period.  Apply ample amounts of sunscreen to all sun exposed areas of the body.  The sunscreen should have an SPF of at least 15 and it should protect against both UVA & UVB light.  Don’t forget your feet!

Also reapply the sunscreen throughout the day and especially after taking a swim. 

Early detection is the key to preventing the spread of a skin cancer.  Follow the ABCDE guideline method to check for a skin cancer.  Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color changes, Diameter and Elevation are the most important factors to check for a skin cancer such as melanoma.  A malignant skin lesion may not be symmetrical, has irregular borders, exhibits color changes and varying degrees of pigmentation within the lesion, may have a diameter larger than 6 millimeters and can be elevated or raised.  Also a skin lesion that bleeds is another sign of a malignancy.

Just as a monthly self-breast exam is important to detect a breast cancer, The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends performing a monthly skin cancer check.  Use a mirror if you cannot see certain areas or have someone look for you. Check your entire body especially those areas that are not visible such as the soles of the feet and in between the toes.

A podiatrist often times detects suspicious lesions of the foot during a routine foot evaluation.  If detected, then the podiatric foot and ankle specialist can take a simple in-office biopsy or sample of the skin lesion.  This simple procedure can be a life-saving.

So sunscreen for the feet everyone!