The American Cancer Society indicates that melanoma accounts for only about 1% of skin cancers but causes a large percentage of skin cancer deaths, and incidence rates have risen over the past few decades. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) website states that, in the United States, approximately 20 Americans die from melanoma every day.
A recent publication on the AAD website provides critical information that individuals can use to examine their nails when conducting routine skin checks for signs of melanoma. These tips are demonstrated in “How to Check Your Nails for Melanoma,” a video on the AAD website. This video is part of the AAD’s “Video of the Month” series, which offers information individuals can use to properly care for their skin, hair, and nails. 

Examples of signs of melanoma may include the following:

1) A dark streak. This may look like a brown or black band in the nail—often on the thumb or big toe of the dominant hand or foot. However, this dark streak can show up on any nail.

2) Dark skin next to the nail. When the skin around the nail becomes darker, it could be a sign of advanced melanoma.

3) Nail lifting from the fingers or toes. When this happens, the nail starts to separate from the nail bed. The white free edge at the top of the nail will start to look longer as the nail lifts.

4) Nail splitting, which occurs when a nail splits down the middle.

5) A bump or nodule under the nail. One might also see a band of color on the nail that could be wide and irregular or dark and narrow.

The AAD recommends that if any new or suspicious spots on the skin or nails or any spots that are changing, itching, or bleeding are seen, the individual should make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist.

In the article, Dr. Souyoul states, “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 protect the skin from sun damage and skin cancer, the AAD recommends that individuals seek shade, especially when the sun’s rays are strongest, between 10 AM and 2 PM; wear sun-protective clothing; and always apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and reapplying it every 2 hours or after swimming or sweating.

According to the AAD, the good news is that, when detected early, melanoma—even in the nails—is highly treatable, and the best measures to reduce or prevent this serious form of skin cancer are to conduct routine skin checks, protect the skin by implementing a daily skin-care regimen, and immediately seek medical care for any unusual dermatologic issues

Pharmacists, for their part, can remind patients to use skin-care products that contain ceramides since they help restore and maintain the natural skin barrier and overall skin health.

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

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