Reference Library

Skin cancers of the feet

Physicians caution us to monitor new or unusual growths on our skin for signs of skin cancer. Because the sun’s harmful rays are a major cause of carcinoma and melanoma, we naturally assume that these cancers will appear on parts of the body that are frequently exposed to the sun.


Skin cancers of the feet, however, can be very different from growths elsewhere on the body. Rather than resulting from sun exposure, they are more often related to viruses, exposure to chemicals, chronic inflammation, chronic irritation or inherited traits. Unfortunately, the skin of the feet is often overlooked during routine medical examinations and for this reason it is important that you check your feet regularly for any skin abnormalities and report any potential problems to a podiatrist.

Skin cancers of the feet have several features in common. Most are painless, and often there is a history of recurrent cracking, bleeding or ulceration where these cancers develop.  Frequently, individuals discover skin cancer after unrelated ailments near the affected site.

Types and symptoms

Feet are susceptible to the same kinds of skin cancers as can develop on other parts of the body, but these carcinomas or melanomas affecting the feet may have a very different appearance from those arising on different parts of the body.

Basal cell carcinoma is frequently seen on sun-exposed skin surfaces. Since feet usually experience less exposure to the sun’s rays, this type of cancer occurs there less commonly and is one of the least aggressive cancers in the body. It will cause local damage but only rarely spread beyond the skin. 

Basal cell cancers appear with pearly white bumps or patches that might ooze or crest and may look like an open sore.

Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common form of cancer on the skin of the feet.  Most types of early squamous cell carcinoma are confined to the skin and do not spread.

This form of cancer often begins as a small scaly bump that may appear inflamed.  Sometimes there is a history of recurrent cracking or bleeding.  Although squamous cell cancer is typically painless, it may be itchy.  It may resemble a fungal infection, eczema, ulceration or other common skin conditions of the foot.  However, when advanced, squamous cell carcinoma can become aggressive and spread throughout the body.

Malignant melanoma is one of the deadliest skin cancers.  Non-surgical treatments are rarely effective and many remain experimental.  This type of skin cancer must be detected very early. 

Melanomas may occur on the skin of the feet and even beneath a toenail.  Look for them both on the soles and on the top of the feet.  As the melanoma grows and extends deeper into the skin, it becomes more serious and may spread through the body by the lymphatic system and blood vessels.

Melanoma typically begins as a small black spot or bump; however, nearly one-third of cases lack brown pigment and thus appear pink or red.  They may resemble moles, but close inspection will usually demonstrate asymmetry: irregular borders, alterations in color and/or a diameter greater than 6 mm.  Melanomas may resemble benign moles, blood blisters, ingrown toenails, plantar warts, ulcers caused by poor circulation, foreign bodies or bruises.

Your podiatrist is trained to recognize and treat abnormal skin conditions of the lower legs and feet. A podiatrist’s knowledge and clinical training is important to patients for the early detection and treatment of malignant and benign skin tumors.  If you notice a mole, bump or patch of skin that meets any of the following criteria, see your podiatrist immediately:

  • Asymmetry - if the lesion is divided in half, the two sides don’t match.
  • Uneven borders - borders look scattered, uneven or ragged.
  • Discoloration – the spot may be more than one color, and coloration may be unevenly distributed.
  • Size - the lesion’s diameter is wider than a pencil eraser (greater than 6 mm).


Diagnosis and treatment

Your podiatrist will investigate the possibility of skin cancer both through a clinical examination and with the use of a skin biopsy.  A skin biopsy is a simple procedure in which a small sample of the skin lesion is removed and sent to a specialized laboratory where a skin pathologist examines the tissue in greater detail.  If the lesion is determined to be cancerous, your podiatrist will recommend the best course of treatment for your condition.


Prevention of skin cancer on the feet and ankles is similar to what is recommended for other parts of the body.  Limit sun exposure and make sure to apply appropriate sunscreen to your feet and ankles when you are outdoors and exposed. Check your feet regularly for cracking, irritation, discoloration and new bumps or moles.


Give us a call today!

  • " After 7 years as a diabetic, I developed problems with my feet. With Dr. McConekey’s great care, along with his teachi ..."
Read more testimonials ›

Follow Us