The next time you clip your toenails, take a closer look at the rest of your feet. An extra 60 seconds could save your life. 

Foot and ankle surgeons say routine self-examinations of the feet are an important way to find skin cancer early, when it’s easiest to cure. Half of the people who learn they have melanoma of the foot die within five years because the cancer has already spread throughout their body by the time it’s diagnosed. 

Nearly 60,000 people will learn they have melanoma this year. It’s not known how many of these cases will involve the foot, but more than 8,100 melanoma patients will die—nearly one death every hour. If melanoma is detected in its earliest stages, 92% of patients are alive after five years. 

Unlike many other types of cancer, melanoma strikes people of all age groups, even the young. Whites are 10 times more likely to develop melanoma than blacks. But studies suggest more than half of melanoma cases in blacks involve the foot, where late diagnosis leads to a higher death rate. Routine foot self-exams increase the likelihood of noticing suspicious moles, freckles or other spots. 

“The first question I’m going to ask a patient is, ‛How long has it been there?’” says Neil Campbell, DPM, FACFAS, a spokesman for the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS). 

Foot and ankle surgeons recommend focusing on the three most common areas for foot melanoma: the soles, between the toes and around or under the toenails. Dr. Campbell notes melanoma can develop anywhere on the body, including areas that receive little sun exposure, such as the feet and ankles. If a mole, freckle or spot starts to change over the course of a month and becomes asymmetrical or changes its border, color, diameter or elevation, see a doctor immediately. 

For more information on malignant melanoma of the foot, or to find a local foot and ankle surgeon, visit the ACFAS website

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