Common cancers have a high level of awareness among Americans. Prevalent cancers like breast, colon or prostate affect a large number of people, and it’s important to be aware of preventive and diagnostic measures. But cancer can also strike in an area of the body many people don’t think about – the feet.
“The most serious, increasingly common type of skin cancer, melanoma, can first emerge on the feet,” says Dr. Matthew Garoufalis, a podiatrist and president of the American Podiatric Medical Association. “One reason for this may be that many people who are vigilant about using sunscreen on their faces and arms still forget to apply protection to their feet.”
Exposure to UV rays is a leading cause of skin cancer.
More than 2 million cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year in the U.S., and it is the most common type of cancer in the world, says the American Academy of Dermatology. While sun exposure is a main contributor to skin cancers on other parts of the body, and can be a factor when melanoma occurs on the feet, many cancers that affect the feet can be more often linked to anything that causes increased cell turnover, including viruses, chemical exposure, chronic inflammation and chronic ulceration. Heredity may also play a role, the APMA reports.
With the arrival of summer and more time outdoors and on-the-go, it’s a good idea to think about protecting and monitoring all aspects of foot health, including cancer risks. The APMA offers some important information about cancers of the feet:
The skin of the feet often gets overlooked during routine physicals. Be sure to ask your doctor to include a close inspection of your feet in your annual physical, and do your own routine checks regularly.
Take steps to protect your feet from sources of skin cancer. Always apply sunscreen to your feet when you wear sandals or flip-flops – including between the toes and on the soles. To reduce exposures to harmful viruses, avoid going barefoot in public areas such as pool decks, hotel rooms or corridors, and on beaches and boardwalks. Never go barefoot when using household chemicals such as weed killers or strong cleansers. If your feet become painful or the skin inflamed, don’t try to wait out the irritation; see a podiatrist right away.
“Skin cancers on the feet and lower legs can look very different than skin cancers on other areas of the body,” Garoufalis says. “Podiatrists are uniquely trained as lower-extremity specialists, and are best equipped to help patients detect early and treat effectively both benign and malignant skin tumors on the feet and lower legs.”
Visit www.APMA.org to find a podiatrist in your area, and to learn more about foot health.