A melanoma on a toe, either on the skin or under the nail, can be particularly unnerving vs. a melanoma elsewhere.

When a case of melanoma is publicized, it’s often on the person’s face, back, chest or leg.

Melanoma can arise anywhere on the body, and a toe is no exception.

It can grow anywhere on any toe including under and between the toes, and anywhere on the entire foot for that matter, including the sole.

“Melanoma on the foot can present as a brown or black vertical line under a toenail, a pinkish-red spot or growth, a new spot or growth where the foot was previously injured, a rapidly growing mass on the foot, especially where it was once injured, or a non-healing sore on the foot,” says Cameron K. Rokhsar, MD, a double board-certified dermatologist and owner of New York Cosmetic, Skin & Laser Surgery Center.

Melanoma Can Grow on the Big Toe, the Pinky and Any Other Toe

You may be wondering if there’s anything about the toe location that would make a melanoma potentially spread faster if it’s not treated at an early stage.

“There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that toe melanomas spread faster than melanomas in other locations,” says Dr. Rokhsar.

“However, it is important to note that the prognosis for melanoma is largely dependent on the stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis.

“The thickness of the melanoma at the time of primary tumor excision is the main factor associated with the risk of metastatic melanoma and death.

Grades of melanoma thickness. Cancer Research UK

“In the later stages of the disease, melanoma can spread to almost any area of the body, including the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, brain, bone and gastrointestinal tract.

“Melanoma on the toe is often not detected until it has already progressed significantly.

“This is because it’s in an area that is not typically exposed to the sun, so people may not think to check their toes for any suspicious spots or changes.

“This delay in detection can make treatment more difficult and potentially less effective.”

In general, many people just don’t look at their feet much.

Some people even hate their feet, thinking they’re ugly, and thus hardly ever look at them, let alone the toes until it’s time to trim the nails.

Furthermore, unless they’ve been making a point to conduct regular exams for suspicious spots on their skin, there’s no reason they’re going to be routinely checking under their toes – where a melanoma will easily be missed, even if someone is trimming or painting their nails.

In fact, if a melanoma is growing in between the toes, it won’t necessarily be noticed when one is trimming or painting their toenails or putting on socks.

The disease will have already spread if the diagnosis is made at a later stage.

Checking all over your toe area during your skin cancer checks is just as important as checking the legs, face and other bigger areas.

“Early detection and treatment of melanoma is crucial for successful treatment and a positive prognosis,” says Dr. Rokhsar.

“The five-year survival rate for people with melanoma is about 99% if the cancer is detected early.”

This means a thin or superficial melanoma, not a thick or penetrating one.

“However, it drops to about 15% if cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Kpeszczy, CC BY-SA 3.0/creativecommons.org

“It is recommended to regularly examine your skin and seek medical attention if you notice any unusual moles or growths, including those on your toes.”

Treating Melanoma on a Toe

“Additionally, melanoma on the toe can be more difficult to treat than melanoma on other parts of the body due to the unique anatomy of the foot,” explains Dr. Rokhsar.

“The skin on the feet is thicker and has fewer blood vessels than other areas, making it harder for treatments like topical medications or radiation therapy to penetrate the skin and reach melanoma.

“Surgery is often the preferred treatment for melanoma on the toe, but even this can be challenging due to the intricate structures and nerves in the area.”

Lower Your Risk of Melanoma on the Foot

Though sunlight isn’t necessary to spark the growth of a melanoma, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother putting sunblock on your feet when you go outside in flip-flops or sandals.

Few people actually do this. It’s a hassle, and even when they realize the importance, they can easily forget, especially if they suddenly decide to go out somewhere and, without much conscious thought, slip into their flip-flops or sandals.

A bottle of sunscreen near where you put your tongs and sandals will help remind you.

Sunblock isn’t just for the face, neck, back, arms and legs. Smear it on your feet, too!

At New York Cosmetic, Skin, and Laser Surgery Center, Cameron K. Rokhsar, MD, FAAD, FAACS, and his team provide exceptional skin care solutions for many conditions and skin diseases including all types of skin cancer. Dr. Rokhsar is board certified in dermatology and dermatologic surgery.
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.