Can cancer or melanoma actually develop in a fingernail, of all places?

Perhaps you’ve seen photos of what appears to be melanoma in a nail—either a toenail or fingernail.

You may wonder, how can a cancer grow inside a nail which is dead tissue? Nails are dead; this is why when you clip them or one breaks, there is no pain.

How does dead tissue, then, support the uncontrolled growth that is cancer?

There Is No Such Thing As “Nail Cancer”

What’s actually happening is that the melanoma begins developing in the nail bed or matrix, which is beneath the nail.

“The nail matrix, which produces the nail plate, can develop cancer,” says Janet Prystowsky, MD, a board certified dermatologist in New York, NY, with 30+ years’ experience.

Dr. Prystowsky adds,  “A brown stripe will often grow through the length of the nail as a result.”

Sometimes the dark area is thicker, like a band or can fill up much of the nail space over time.

You can see what’s going on under the nail, which means you can see the cancer. The dark spot appears to be IN the nail — but it’s underneath.

Laypeople, however, think of this cancer as occurring within the nail, due to its appearance. There are three types of this malignancy.

• Subungual melanoma (originates in the nail matrix)

• Ungual melanoma (starts beneath the nail plate)

• Periungual melanoma (starts in the skin beside the nail plate)

The nail matrix and plate are not the same as the nail—the tissue that you clip, paint or accidentally break.

This malignancy can occur in people of any race, and it’s not brought on by sun exposure.

It comprises one to five percent of all melanoma cases, making it quite rare.

Everyone should conduct monthly exams of their skin for suspicious new growths or changes in long-time moles.

This includes areas that don’t get much sun such as between the toes, the soles of the feet, the groin, behind the ears, in the ears, the scalp and the eyelids.

And don’t forget to check your nails. If melanoma in this location isn’t caught early, the end of the finger or toe may need to be amputated.

In combination with her focus on early skin cancer detection and removal, Dr. Prystowsky provides a wide range of revitalizing and rejuvenating treatments.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.