Can I Have Skin Cancers on My Feet?

For those of us that live in Australia, the risk of skin cancers and melanoma are drilled into us as kids.

‘No hat, no play’ is the tagline that most of us remember hearing during our school days.

As kids, it seemed cruel to be forced to sit in the shade whilst you watched your friends play happily in the sun with their hats on.

As adults, we can all appreciate the teachers looking after our skin health and say a big thank you to them!

Skin health is a major concern in Australia, with research suggesting that the average person has a 1 in 18 chance of being diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they reach the age of 85 years old.

When we hear of skin cancers, often we think of the face, head, shoulders, arms and even the legs. However, most people are not aware that skin cancers can also occur on the feet, including on the nails.

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer involves the abnormal growth of skin cells.

This can occur anywhere on the body and when it occurs on the feet it often goes unnoticed, particularly on the toenails, which makes it particularly dangerous.

There are 3 types of skin cancers:

Basal cell carcinoma

This type of skin cancer is caused by sun exposure.

It is a less aggressive form of skin cancer and is less common on the feet.

They appear to be white bumps or open sores and often look like a small tumour or ulcer.

Squamous cell carcinoma

These skin cancers start out as small bumps in the skin that have a scaly appearance and can often be mistaken for callus, warts or a fungal infection.

They are the most common type of skin cancer found on the feet. They are usually painless, however can sometimes bleed or itch.

Malignant melanoma

This is the most aggressive form of skin cancer and can be found anywhere on the feet, including on the toenails and under the nails.

They often begin as a small spot that is usually brown or black and can also look like moles.

It is important that these lesions are diagnosed quickly and early to prevent this spreading, as in some cases it may be life threatening.

The signs of a melanoma are identified by using the ABCDE acronym

  • Asymmetry – one half of the lesion may look different to the other half.
  • Borders – the borders of the lesion may be unusual or blurry.
  • Colour – There may be multiple colours present on the lesion
  • Diameter – Any lesions more than 6mm in diameter should be assessed further.
  • Evolution – if the lesion is changing in any way, it is best to have it assessed further.

Another way we can assess foot lesions or tell the difference between a melanoma or benign lesion is by the CUBED acronym

  • Colour – any lesion that is not the same colour as the skin.
  • Uncertain diagnosis – this is where we are unsure of what the lesion is.
  • Bleeding lesions
  • Enlargement of the lesion
  • Delay in healing of the lesion

Subungual melanomas are cancers that develop underneath the toenail. They can appear as:

  • Changes in the nail colour, including brown of black streaks through the nail
  • Bruising in the nail that does not grow out with the nail
  • Nails that are separated from the nail bed
  • Distortion of the nail plate including thinning, cracking or bleeding underneath the nail

What does skin cancer feel like?

In most cases of skin cancer on the feet, they are typically painless.

However, if they are bleeding or present as more of an ulcer, they may cause some discomfort such as itching.

What Causes Skin Cancer?

Whilst skin cancers are typically caused by sun exposure on the top of the foot, there are other factors that can cause cancers.

This may include viruses, chemical exposures and genetics. Risk factors for skin cancers can include existing moles or freckles or a family history of skin cancer.

In some cases, the cause of skin cancer is unknown.

How are Skin Cancers Diagnosed?

Skin cancers can be diagnosed via a dermatoscope, which is a small imaging device that uses light and magnification to look at a skin lesion.

If the lesion appears to be suspicious, a biopsy will often be taken to analyse the properties of the lesion. This will help to guide the treatment options.

How Can I Prevent Developing Skin Cancers?

Protecting your skin, not just on your feet but on your entire body, is imperative when preventing skin cancers.

Simple things that you can do include:

  • Wearing shoes instead of going barefoot when spending long periods of time in the sun.
  • Applying sunscreen to your exposed skin, including on your feet when sitting in the sun.
  • Avoiding spending long periods of time in the sun.
  • Checking your skin and nails regularly for new sunspots or lesions, or if your current freckles or moles have changed in appearance at all. Visit your doctor or dermatologist to have a mole map completed to identify any suspicious lesions.

If you do notice any skin changes or you’re worried about sores, lesions and existing moles, you can always see your GP.

How Can We Help at Watsonia Podiatry?

If you are concerned about any lesions on your feet, whether that be on the skin or nails, come in and visit us for an assessment as soon as possible.

If we believe that a lesion requires further assessment, we will refer you to your GP who can refer you to a dermatologist.

For any issues to do with your feet or lower limbs, make sure you come see us at Watsonia Podiatry. We’re based in Melbourne’s Northeast suburbs and our team are ready to help you today. Give us a call on (03) 9432 2689 or book online today.


Aaron Dri