10 Sneaky Places You Can Get Skin Cancer (That Aren’t on Your Skin)
Skin cancer is highly treatable if caught early so make sure you're checking these surprising spots and symptoms of skin cancer.
Where can you get skin cancer?
Even though skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States with one in five Americans developing it by the age of 70, there are still some misconceptions about the disease. In fact, there are places you can get skin cancer that aren't on your skin. Here's what you need to know.
You can get skin cancer: In the irises of your eyes
Just like you can get freckles in your eyes (it’s true!) you can also get other types of sun damage in your irises, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. But isn’t skin cancer supposed to be, well, on your skin? The truth is that any part of your body exposed to the sun is vulnerable and even though we may not think about it often, our eyes are one of the most exposed parts of our bodies. “Ninety percent of all skin cancers are due to sun damage,” says Bobby Awadalla, MD, a board-certified dermatologist. “And the more sun damage an area receives the more likely you are to develop skin cancer in that location.” This is why you need to be vigilant about protecting your peepers. Since you can’t put sunscreen in your eyes (ouch!), make sure you wear UV-blocking sunglasses and get regular checkups with an eye doctor. And if you notice any strange new spots of color in your irises or a change in their color, make an appointment, stat. Make sure you never ignore these places when you check for skin cancer.
You can get skin cancer: Under your fingernails
With the popularity of gel manicures, fingers and toes are now in the hot seat—literally, thanks to the UV lights used to seal the gel coat. You hopefully already know how damaging tanning beds can be to your skin, says Stephen Stahr, MD, a dermatologist in New Braunfels, Texas, and those quick-dry devices are basically mini tanning beds for your nails. While you can’t get skin cancer on your nails, the damage can penetrate through the nail to the skin underneath. To make sure you’re safe, he recommends putting sunscreen everywhere, including on the tips of your fingers and toes. In addition, take a moment to examine your nail beds without polish on a regular basis because this mark on your nail could mean you have skin cancer.
You can get skin cancer: In your butt crack
One of the strangest places Dr. Stahr says he’s found skin cancer is inside a patient’s "gluteal cleft"—the butt crack. It turned out to be squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer that is generally not lethal but is always caused by the sun. When he questioned the woman further he found that she favored tanning in the nude and had always been very careful to make sure her cheeks were evenly browned. Thankfully, she was cured with a quick surgery, but Dr. Stahr says the moral of this story is to skip tanning—and make sure you’re checking your cracks and crevices for growths.
You can get skin cancer: On your genitals
Both Drs. Awadalla and Stahr say they’ve had patients with genital melanomas and it is sadly not uncommon. The problem generally isn’t nude sunbathing. “Melanoma skin cancer, which usually develops at a site of chronic sun exposure can metastasize, or spread, to a site in the body which is far from its point of origin,” Dr. Stahr says. This is why you can find skin cancers on parts of the body that never see daylight. If you’re feeling shy, get over that quick. “One of my patients was very hesitant because she was embarrassed to show the doctor the growing pigmented lesion on her private areas but, because she waited so long, she ended up losing crucial parts of her anatomy,” he adds. So speak up. Skin cancer on your genitals is just one of the many surprising things you need to know about skin cancer.
You can get skin cancer: In your ear canal
Let’s be honest: Getting a little crustiness inside your ear or behind it isn’t that unusual. But if it doesn’t go away with a good scrubbing, there’s a chance it could be skin cancer, Dr. Awadalla explains. “My rule is that if you get a new skin lesion and it doesn’t go away after a month you should have it evaluated,” he says. And it’s not just weird moles you need to look for. “Skin cancers can be red, pearly, scaly, or have an ulceration with bleeding and crusting,” he adds.
You can get skin cancer: Under your tongue
Ever wonder why your dentist lifts up your tongue and gives it a good look underneath and around the sides? One reason is that it is possible to get melanoma on your tongue. Even though you likely aren’t getting much sun exposure in your mouth, it is possible if the cancer has metastasized. And odds of getting any kind of cancer on your tongue or inside your mouth greatly increases if you smoke. So make sure you’re keeping up with your dental check-ups and ditch the cigarettes. Here are 51 more things dermatologists want you to know about skin cancer.
You can get skin cancer: On your scalp, under your hair
Skin cancer on the scalp is a double whammy: Not only is it one of the most common places to get the disease but thanks to your hair it’s often missed, ignored, or mistaken for something else like dandruff. “If anything is growing, itching, burning, or bleeding, it should be evaluated by a physician,” Dr. Stahr says. Even if it turns out to be something like psoriasis, dandruff, or ringworm, dermatologists are well-equipped to deal with those conditions too. In addition, it’s a good idea to make friends with your hairdresser as they are often the first notice new or changing moles on the scalp.
You can get skin cancer: In your anus
It’s rare, but there have been cases of melanoma around the anus, inside the anus, and even inside the gastrointestinal tract, says Dr. Awadalla. Since it’s hard to check places where the sun literally never shines, it’s important to be on the lookout for other symptoms like blood in your feces, pain during evacuation, or persistent changes in your bowel movements and other silent signs of skin cancer you might be ignoring.
You can get skin cancer: Between your toes
People often forget to put sunscreen on their feet, even when they’re in sandals all summer. And while a mole gone rogue on the top of your foot would likely catch your eye, many people don’t think to look in places like between your toes and on the soles of your feet. Moles on the feet need to be evaluated just like moles on any other part of your body, Dr. Stahr says, using the ABCDE method: Asymmetry, irregular Border, uneven or multiple Colors, Diameter bigger than a pencil eraser, Evolving or changing. Your scalp and ears are other critical spots you forget to put sunscreen on too.
You can get skin cancer: Hidden in a tattoo
People with tattoos understandably like to show them off, which usually means plenty of sun exposure. There’s a popular myth that big tattoos can act as a sunscreen but not only is that untrue, some ink color—particularly white—can actually intensify sun damage. In addition, the ink can mask common symptoms of skin cancer like moles that change color or a bumpy lesion. So if you want to make sure all your skin stays as pretty as (your) pictures, make sure to pay close attention to your skin under the tattoos and always wear sunscreen. Now that you know where the hidden places for skin cancer are, take a look at these 13 sunburn myths that are damaging your skin even more.