Point the finger at melanoma

Nail melanoma: know the signs

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A dark line on a fingernail or toenail could be nothing - or a sign of melanoma.


SO YOU'VE noticed a dark line on one of your nails. It's probably harmless, but it can be a sign of melanoma of the nail.

While multiple lines are fairly common in dark-skinned people, Associate Professor Anne Howard, a dermatologist with the Australasian College of Dermatologists, who specialises in nails, says there are warning signs.

"Bleeding under the nail can sometimes look very black; usually this is in the toenails, especially the large one," she said.

"However a new dark line in a light-skinned person's nail, especially the big toenail, thumb and index finger, may be the sign of early melanoma of the nail."

Other signs include:

  • If the stripe is very dark
  • If the border of the strips is blurred
  • If there are changes in an existing stripe
  • If the patient has a family history of cancer.

The key to surviving melanoma is early detection, so always discuss anything suspicious with your general practitioner as soon as possible.

"Treatments of this cancer vary on the stage in which it has been caught," Associate Professor Howard said.

"If discovered early enough, the nail tissue or nail may only have to be removed.

"If the cancer is fairly well developed, the entire tip of the finger may need to be amputated."

Stressing the need to be vigilant, Associate Professor Howard cited the example of a 52-year-old woman who developed a line in her nail which gradually widened. The woman was busy working on a farm but saw a magazine article about lines in nails so saw her GP and was referred to a dermatologist.

"She had a biopsy and it was an early melanoma," she said.

"She had to have her nail and skin around the tip of the thumb removed, but as it was an early melanoma she didn't have to have an amputation."

Find out more about common skin problems and how they may be treated HERE

Find a local dermatologist HERE

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