While it may not seem common, there are several different kinds of cancer that can affect your feet, and oftentimes they are some of the most overlooked types of cancer.
The next time you change your shoes or socks, take a closer look at your feet. Self-examination of your feet and toes is the easiest way to catch foot cancer early, and early detection plays a vital role in increasing the effectiveness of treatment.
Types of cancer
Neoplastic disorders, or tumors, are caused by an abnormal growth of tissue. There are several different kinds of soft tissue and bone tumors that affect the feet, including the following:
- Plantar Fibroma - This benign tumor grows on the bottom surface (or plantar) of your foot. Plantar fibromas can cause discomfort when walking and may be treated with shoe inserts or may be surgically removed.
- Osteochondroma - This benign tumor forms in the bone beneath the toenails. It occurs most often in young children and active adults. Osteochondromas are usually not painful, but surgery may be considered if they are interfering with your physical activities.
- Giant Cell Tumor - This is a rare and aggressive type of benign tumor usually found on the toes or the top and sides of the feet, near a tendon sheath. These tumors feel firm to the touch and can be painful. Though the tumor does not invade the bone, it can eventually cause erosion of the bone due to pressure.
- Malignant Melanoma - Skin cancer is one of the deadliest types of cancer that can affect your feet. Malignant melanomas have a high survival rate if caught early, but these skin growths often go unnoticed in their earliest stages, especially on the feet. This type of skin cancer can strike people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds.
Cancer signs and symptoms
Self-examination is critical to the early diagnosis of many foot conditions, and cancer is no exception. To detect melanoma, most foot doctors will recommend focusing on the soles of your feet, the area beneath the toenails, and the skin between the toes. To differentiate a normal skin growth from melanoma, look for changes in the symmetry, color, diameter, border, and elevation of the growth.
Soft tissue and bone tumors lend themselves to early diagnosis – they will feel like soft or firm nodules or lumps. Osteochondromas (bone tumors) are usually located on the metatarsals and feel like a painless lump. These soft tissue and bone tumors may increase in size and can eventually become painful as they begin to interfere with the function of surrounding tissues and joints.
Treatment of benign foot tumors begins with conservative measures, including stretching, physical therapy, steroid injections, and foot orthotics. When foot growths begin to interfere with physical activities, surgery may be necessary to remove the tumors.
Suspicious skin growths on your feet may require biopsy and removal. If the growth is malignant, treatment will depend on whether the cancer has spread to other areas of your body.