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Wed, 6 Feb, 2019Over60

Why you should check your nails for signs of cancer

Why you should check your nails for signs of cancer

When you think of skin cancer, you probably think of checking for moles. But did you know your nails can also reveal a sign of melanoma?

Manicurist Jean Skinner had first-hand experience catching this stealthy symptom. “I had a walk-in nail client a couple weeks ago,” she wrote in an August 2017 Facebook post. “She had a straight dark vertical stripe down her nail. She said as soon as she sat down – I need a colour dark enough to cover this stripe.”

Other salons had speculated that the woman’s mysterious line could be due to a calcium deficiency, a blood blister, or a strange hereditary mark. Yet Skinner knew better than that. She immediately told her customer that the dark line was likely a little-known symptom of melanoma. 

Don't brush off this easy-to-ignore symptom.

Subungual melanoma (aka nail melanoma) is, as its nickname suggests, a skin cancer that occurs under the nail. It affects 0.7 to 3.5 percent of people with melanoma. Rare as it is, it’s important to know about its telltale sign: a dark black or brown line across a finger- or toenail, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Sadly, Skinner’s hunch was correct – and the prognosis wasn’t good. The client called later to tell her she had aggressive melanoma that had spread to her lymph nodes. (Check these 8 ways to get fitter after cancer treatment).

A black band isn’t the only skin cancer symptom that could be hiding under your nail polish. Other signs of nail melanoma include darkened skin around the nail, blood, pus and splits in the nail, according to the AAD. Early diagnosis could be crucial, so see your doctor right away if you happen to notice a dark mark under your fingernail or any other suspicious symptoms.

Written by Brooke Nelson. This article first appeared in Reader’s Digest. For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, here’s our best subscription offer.

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