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Skin Cancer Explained

7 places you never thought to check for skin cancer

MoleMap Team
August 16, 2023
15 minutes

Melanoma and other skin cancers can be found almost anywhere on your body, even in the areas where you least expect it.

We all know to check for melanoma and oth­er skin can­cers in the obvi­ous places that are most fre­quent­ly exposed to the sun, like the back, face, legs and arms. But you’d be sur­prised where else they can appear.

Not all melanoma is caused by sun expo­sure. The real­i­ty is that melanoma and can­cer­ous moles can grow any­where on the body. In fact, melanoma can even appear in areas that are out of sight — and there­fore, out of mind.

Although these​‘hid­den’ melanomas are fair­ly rare, they can be even more dan­ger­ous because they’re less like­ly to be caught ear­ly when they’re most treat­able. This is why it’s crucial to check your skin and existing moles regularly with a self-check every three months—a good way to remember to do this is at the start of each season.

Additionally, scheduling a mole check with a dermatologist or melanographer annually can provide further assurance of your skin's health.

When check­ing your own skin for skin can­cer, always check the unex­pect­ed. This includes areas that are often cov­ered up and do not get a lot of sun expo­sure. The use of a mir­ror (or two) is invalu­able in self-exams. Bet­ter yet, call on a fam­i­ly mem­ber or friend to check your skin. They’ll be able to see a lot of the places that you can­not, such as behind the ears and on your scalp, neck and back. Remem­ber, melanoma can be quite var­ied, but usu­al­ly appear as a brown­ish or black spot with dark­er, irreg­u­lar colours and bor­ders (see what to look for).

Ready to check your skin? Here are 7 places you might not think to look when check­ing for skin cancer.

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Moles on the pubic area, groin and genitals

Can­cer­ous moles can grow on the pubic area, groin and gen­i­talia. Since this is not an area that most peo­ple spend a lot of time look­ing at, these moles often go unde­tect­ed. Peo­ple may also feel embar­rassed to get these areas checked by a pro­fes­sion­al and may not flag their con­cerns with their doc­tor, der­ma­tol­o­gist or melanog­ra­ph­er. How­ev­er, if you notice any unusu­al spots or new moles in these areas, it’s cru­cial that you con­sult with a pro­fes­sion­al for fur­ther investigation.

Some of the areas in the groin and pubic region that you may not expect to find skin can­cer include:

The vagi­nal area

The symp­toms of vagi­nal or vul­va melanoma are sim­i­lar to symp­toms of oth­er infec­tions, but usu­al­ly there is a tell­tale sign of a mole that’s chang­ing in this area.

Look out for:

  • Bleed­ing
  • Itch­ing
  • Pain dur­ing inter­course or short­ly afterwards
  • Unusu­al discharge
  • A notice­able mass or dis­coloura­tion of the vul­va (exter­nal area of the female genitals)

If you notice any of these symp­toms, advise your doc­tor or melanog­ra­ph­er as soon as possible.

The anus/​rectum

Also known as mucos­al melanoma, melanoma of the anus can be mis­di­ag­nosed as hem­or­rhoids because the symp­toms are the same or very similar.

Look out for:

  • Rec­tal bleeding
  • Pain in the rec­tum or anus
  • Diar­rhea
  • Con­sti­pa­tion
  • An obvi­ous mass in the rec­tal area

Many of these can also be signs of bow­el can­cer, so it pays to see your GP imme­di­ate­ly if you have any of the above symptoms.

The uri­nary tract

Skin can­cer of the uri­nary tract is very rare, but also hard to diag­nose. There are no signs of ear­ly stage melanoma of the ure­thra. How­ev­er, in advanced stages, there are a few symp­toms that may appear.

Look out for:

  • Blood in urine
  • Pain when urinating
  • Need­ing to uri­nate frequently
  • Feel­ing the urge to uri­nate but only pass­ing small amounts of urine

Some of these symptoms can also occur during urinary tract infections, so see your doctor if you’re concerned. Additionally, it's worth noting that tattoos can increase the risk of skin cancer, so it's essential to monitor any changes in your skin closely.

Melanoma on toe­nail or fingernail

Melanoma on toe­nail or fingernail

While rare, melanoma under the toe­nail or fin­ger­nail bed does hap­pen. In fact, Bob Mar­ley died of melanoma on his toe­nail at age 36. This type of skin can­cer is known as sub­un­gual melanoma and it’s more preva­lent on thumbs or big toes. It often appears as a brown or black streak that doesn’t dis­ap­pear over time. Inter­est­ing­ly, sub­un­gual melanomas are often seen in peo­ple who have a dark­er com­plex­ion and are gen­er­al­ly at low­er risk of skin can­cer and melanoma.

Look out for:

  • A light-to-dark-brown col­ored band on the nail (usu­al­ly vertical)
  • A dark band on the nail that slow­ly expands and cov­ers more of the nail
  • Dark nail pig­men­ta­tion that expands to the sur­round­ing skin
  • A nod­ule under­neath the nail (with or with­out a band of dark colour
  • Nail brit­tle­ness, crack­ing or bleed­ing at the site of pigmentation

Unlike most skin can­cer, sub­un­gual melanoma isn’t usu­al­ly caused by the sun. A tell­tale sign is that it only occurs on one nail at a time. Fun­gal infec­tions and bruis­es can also look sim­i­lar, so ask your GP or your MoleMap Melanog­ra­ph­er if you’re concerned.

While you’re check­ing out your fin­gers and toes, be sure to take a good look at your feet too. Don’t for­get to care­ful­ly check in between your toes and on the soles of your feet.

check­ing out your fin­gers

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Skin can­cer on the scalp or neck

Ultra­vi­o­let radi­a­tion can get through even the thick­est hair and cause sun­burn and can­cer­ous moles. The prob­lem with melanoma of the scalp is that it’s eas­i­ly hid­den by hair, mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult to detect and diag­nose. Plus, symp­toms might not appear until it’s more advanced. Scalp melanomas tend to be more aggres­sive and lethal than oth­er melanomas, which could part­ly be due to the delay in diagnosis.

Exam­in­ing your scalp for skin can­cer is tricky so it’s best to seek help from a fam­i­ly mem­ber or friend. Ask them to use a blow dry­er and comb to part your hair and exam­ine your scalp — and get them take pho­tos of any spots they see.

Anoth­er per­son you might like to ask to check your scalp is some­one who looks at it reg­u­lar­ly: your hair­dress­er. In fact, Queens­land Health Min­is­ter Yvette D’Ath was extreme­ly lucky when her hair­dress­er spot­ted a small, freck­le-like growth on her scalp at a rou­tine hair appoint­ment. The spot was found to be a poten­tial­ly dead­ly melanoma and Yvette could take quick action to have it removed.

Look out for:

  • Rough, scaly pink patches
  • A brown­ish or black spot with dark­er, irreg­u­lar colours and borders

One of the most over­looked areas for skin can­cer is the head. So, when your friend or part­ner (or hair­dress­er) is check­ing your scalp, be sure to ask them to check your neck and ears too as these are places you can­not eas­i­ly see.

Skin can­cer on the scalp or neck

Skin can­cer on the eye

Ocu­lar melanoma is the most com­mon type of can­cer that affects the eye, but it is rare. Accord­ing to the Can­cer Coun­cil, only 125 to 150 Aus­tralians are diag­nosed with ocu­lar melanoma each year. This type of can­cer is slight­ly more like­ly to be found in men and the risk can increase as you get old­er (but can occur at any age).

Ocu­lar melanoma can be dif­fi­cult to detect as it forms on a part of the eye that isn’t vis­i­ble with­out spe­cialised tools used by an optometrist. This is why it’s usu­al­ly spot­ted by optometrists dur­ing rou­tine eye exams.

Look out for:

  • Brown or dark spots on the white of the eye
  • A dark spot on the iris (the coloured part of the eye)
  • Poor or blurred vision in one eye
  • Loss of periph­er­al vision
  • ‘Floaters’, spots or flash­es in vision
  • Change in the shape of the pupil

Keep in mind that these can also be signs of oth­er eye con­di­tions, so if you notice any of these symp­toms, see your doc­tor or eye specialist.

Skin can­cer on the eye

Skin can­cer in the nose

Can­cer with­in the nose is fair­ly rare, but it can hap­pen. Known as mucos­al melanoma, it’s very hard to diag­nose as some symp­toms are sim­i­lar to oth­er conditions.

Look out for:

  • Nose bleeds
  • A bleed­ing lump in the nose
  • Ulcers that don’t heal
  • Loss of your sense of smell
  • Feel­ing like your nasal pas­sages are obstructed
Skin can­cer in the nose

Skin can­cer in the mouth

Skin can­cer in the mouth (also known as oral can­cer) can occur on the lips, tongue, cheeks, gums, roof of the mouth, ton­sils and sali­vary glands. Mouth can­cer is rare, with the Can­cer Coun­cil esti­mat­ing only 687 new cas­es diag­nosed in Aus­tralia in 2021.

Look out for:

  • Dif­fi­cul­ty or pain when swallowing
  • Bleed­ing or numb­ness in the mouth
  • White, red or dis­coloured patch­es on the mouth, gums or tongue
  • A swollen area or sore on the lip that won’t heal
  • A lump in the neck
  • Loose teeth
  • Den­tures that stop fit­ting properly
  • Changes in speech
  • Unex­plained weight loss

It can be dif­fi­cult to thor­ough­ly check the inside of your mouth, but thank­ful­ly, most den­tists are proac­tive in check­ing their patients’ mouths for signs of skin can­cer dur­ing reg­u­lar den­tal check-ups. At your next den­tal check-up, don’t be afraid to ask your den­tist to have a good look around the inside of your mouth, cheeks, gums and under your tongue for any­thing unusual.

If you are expe­ri­enc­ing any of the above symp­toms, please see your doc­tor for fur­ther investigation.

Skin can­cer in the mouth

Skin can­cer on the throat

Melanoma that starts in the oesoph­a­gus or throat is extreme­ly rare, but unfor­tu­nate­ly there are no ear­ly signs. In lat­er stages, a tumour may form and cause more notice­able symptoms.

Look out for:

  • Dif­fi­cul­ty swallowing
  • Pain or bleeding
  • An urge to regur­gi­tate food

Again, these symp­toms can be a sign of oth­er con­di­tions so always see your doc­tor for prop­er diagnosis.

Skin can­cer on the throat

Keep your skin in check with reg­u­lar examinations

While self-checks are impor­tant, there are many places on the body that are dif­fi­cult to self-exam­­ine — even with the help of a friend. As a result, a dan­ger­ous mole can go unde­tect­ed for quite some time.

A thorough head-to-toe skin check performed by a dermatologist or melanographer, such as our Full Body MoleMap offered at our skin cancer clinics, is one of the best ways to monitor your skin for any changes and detect any skin cancers early enough for treatment. We recommend that you undergo a professional skin cancer check every year.

Remem­ber, if you notice any new or sus­pi­cious look­ing spots and moles, don’t put off see­ing a melanog­ra­ph­er or der­ma­tol­o­gist for fur­ther investigation.

You can also deter­mine your per­son­al risk for skin can­cer now with our Risk Quiz — it only takes a minute.



References:
1. www.healthline.com/health/subungual-melanoma
2. http://www.med.unc.edu/www/newsarchive/2008/april/most-lethal-melanomas-are-on-scalp-and-neck

MoleMap Team

At MoleMap we check, detect and treat skin cancer. Find out how you can protect your skin at your nearest MoleMap skin cancer clinic.

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