Acral melanoma accounts for about 5% of all diagnosed melanomas. It is, however, one of the most common forms of melanoma in Asians and people with dark skin, accounting for up to 50% of melanomas that occur in people with these skin types. The legendary Bob Marley died from cancer with the primary source being an acral melanoma under one of his toe nails.
Acral melanoma is often referred to as a “hidden melanoma” because these lesions occur on parts of the body not easily examined or not thought necessary to examine. It develops on the palms, soles, mucous membranes (such as the lining of the mouth, nose and female genitals) and underneath or near fingernails and toenails.
Here is what it usually looks like on each area of the body:
Palms of hand or soles of feet: Melanoma usually begins as an irregularly shaped tan, brown or black spot. It can be mistakenly attributed to a recent injury.
Under a nail: The first sign may be a “nail streak” – a narrow dark stripe under the nail. A new nail streak not associated with recent trauma, an enlarging nail streak, a wide or very darkly pigmented streak, or a nail that is separating or lifting up from the nail bed should be examined by a doctor. NB: Acral melanoma can also develop without any obvious nail streak – particularly the non-pigmented variety.
Mucous membranes: This is a rare form of acral melanoma and when it does develop, it is most likely to develop inside the nose or mouth. Early symptoms could include nose bleeds and nasal stuffiness and a pigmented mass inside the mouth. Melanoma can also develop on the mucous membrane of the anus, urinary tract and female genitalia.
What to remember: be sure to see your doctor or specialist as soon as possible if you notice a:
- Bruised looking nail that does not fade or comes and goes
- Nail lifts up or separates from the nail bed
- New nail streaks not associated with recent trauma
- Enlarging nail streaks
- Pigmented mass in the mouth
- Regular nose bleeds and/or stuffiness
If in doubt it is best to consult with your doctor or MoleMap (0800 6653627), because when it comes to melanoma, early detection is very important.