Nail Health: Can Your Nails Indicate the Presence of Melanoma?

I decided to write this article, because recently, while at the grocery store, I noticed the cashier had dark stripes down her nails. I couldn’t help but look at them, because they set off warning bells in my head. I don’t work as a nurse anymore, but I still think like one. I debated with myself whether to say anything to the lady or not. It wasn’t any of my business that she might have melanoma; and how embarrassing would it be if I said something and she didn’t receive it well? The nurse in me won out, after she got through ringing me up. I merely asked her if she has seen a doctor about the stripes in her nails. She seemed surprised that I said anything; because she did not respond in a way that showed that she was concerned about them. I then told her that our nails tell a lot about our present state of health. I then explained to her that there are other possible causes for stripes on the nails, but one dangerous one is melanoma. She assured me that she would see her doctor at once. I told her that I was actually surprised that a doctor hadn’t already noticed her nails, and she said that she didn’t go to the doctor very often because she didn’t have insurance, but didn’t qualify for Medicaid, so she rarely ever went to the doctor.

Melanoma of the nail beds

When melanoma occurs in the nail beds, it will generally leave a dark stripe down the center of the nail. This type of melanoma is called Subungual Melanoma. Subungual Melanoma is most common in people with a darker complexion, but it can occur in anyone of any skin color. The most common places for melanoma to occur are on the legs in women and on the trunk of the body in men. Dr. Oz talks about melanoma in the nail bed occurring most commonly in African Americans. Dr. Oz goes on to say at not every dark band on a nail is cancerous. WebMD also shows a slide show where the 9th image is one of melanoma of the nail bed. The image on the WebMD site shows the thumb of a light skinned person. Because all dark stripes under the nails don’t indicate cancer, it is important to see your doctor at once to be evaluated.

Signs of Subungual melanoma

The signs of melanoma of the nail bed include:

Dark stripes or bands seen through the thumb, index finger or great toe

Positive Hutchinson Sign (the dark bands extend into the nail fold)

Occurs when a person is 50 years old or older

The person has a history of melanoma

It is possible to have dark bands seen under the nail and have a non-melanoma type of cancer, and it is possible that the dark bands not be significant of any type of cancer. Thus, if you notice any significant changes in your nails, you should pay attention to them and see your doctor as soon as possible for a proper diagnosis and treatment, if indicated.


Dr. Oz


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