Sunscreen – Don’t Leave Out Your Feet

Summertime for many is filled with beach and pool time fun- and lots of sunscreen application.  Don’t forget the feet!

Melanoma is cancer in the cells of the skin that produce pigmentation.  It starts in the melanocytes, which are located in the uppermost layer of skin, and normally function to screen the body against the harmful effects of UV light.  Most cases of melanoma are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning beds. This exposure can be from intense UV radiation in short periods or lower amounts over longer time spans.

Melanoma in the foot and ankle is usually treatable in early stages, but may be diagnosed late, as it often goes undetected under socks and shoes.  Melanoma is rare, but serious. It makes up only about one percent of skin cancers, but causes more cancer deaths than any other type. When malignant melanoma spreads to other areas of the body, it can be especially life-threatening.   Melanoma on areas of skin rarely exposed to the sun, like the soles of the feet and under the toenails, may result from genetic changes and not from sun exposure. But we know with certainty that UV rays from the sun or tanning beds damage the DNA in skin cells and affect how they then grow and divide.  Exposure to sunlight in intense or prolonged amounts significantly increases risk of melanoma. This is absolutely relevant for the top and at times the bottom of the feet.

When examining your feet, there are certain characteristics of skin lesions that should make you seek the evaluation of your podiatrist or dermatologist.  Beware of those with asymmetry where one half is different in shape from the other half. Also notable are irregular borders, where the edges may look jagged, notched or blurred.   Other details of concern are a mix of colors or hues within a skin lesion, rather than a single solid color. Any large lesion with a diameter greater than 5 mm should be evaluated. Early detection in malignant melanoma is crucial- inspect all areas of the feet daily, including the soles, toenails, and between the toes. Use adequate sunscreen in all areas that are unprotected by clothing or shoes.   When your shoes are off, be sure to apply and reapply to the soles and top of feet and toes.




Podiatrist Dr. Erika SchwartzDr. Erika Schwartz works in our Chevy Chase, MD and DC K Street (2021) offices for your convenience.

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