7 surprising areas you should check regularly for melanoma

Woman delicately doing massage of her scalp with cosmetic oil
The scalp is an area where melanoma may develop, but it can often go unnoticed. (Getty Images) (Getty Images)

After a rather wet spring, many Britons are hoping to enjoy a sun-drenched summer. But with rates of melanoma reaching an all-time high, sun protection and regular checks are more important than ever.

According to new figures by Cancer Research UK, 20,800 people are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma this year - representing an increase of almost a third in 10 years.

The rise in cases can be seen across all ages, but adults over 80 saw the biggest increase in melanoma diagnoses, jumping by 57% over the past decade.

It comes as new research commissioned by Swedish cider brewery Kopparberg, in collaboration with Melanoma Fund, revealed that although people are much more aware now about the risks of UV exposure, there are still a number of knowledge gaps among Britons.

In a survey, more than half of Brits said they were unaware that sun damage can occur even on cloudy days, while 71% said they did not realise it could also happen through clothing.

However, the study by Kopparberg - which has launched its own SPF50 sunscreen in partnership with the Melanoma Fund to be available across select UK pubs this summer - also found a significant increase in awareness about the risks of sun exposure.

More than two-thirds of Brits (79%) surveyed said they take sun protection seriously, with half (50%) taking it more seriously now compared to five years ago. Younger people were most likely to take this view, with 83% agreeing this was the case.

SPF30 was revealed to be the most popular level of SPF among Brits, with 40% opting for it. However, nearly a third (30%) said they preferred the higher SPF50+ protection instead, indicating an increased interest in protecting oneself from harmful UV rays.

More than half of those surveyed said they had a better understanding of the risks associated with skin cancer and sun damage. In addition, 44% of Brits said they wanted to protect themselves from the effects of sun exposure.

Michelle Baker, CEO of Melanoma Fund, said in a statement: “Melanoma is dangerous yet mostly preventable with considered sun safety practices. This includes seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and applying SPF30+ sunscreen, especially during the sun's peak hours from 11am to 3pm.

“Staying hydrated is crucial, and if you are drinking alcohol, alternating it with water can help maintain hydration levels under the sun. Our mission is to empower active lifestyles by preventing all types of skin cancer, which is why we're excited to partner with Kopparberg to address this issue and promote responsible drinking habits this summer.”

Applying sunscreen regularly is a must, no matter what your skin colour or type is. (Getty Images)
Applying sunscreen regularly is a must, no matter what your skin colour or type is. (Getty Images) (Getty Images/Cavan Images RF)

While staying protected when you’re out and about in the sun is extremely important, it may surprise you to know that there are some areas of the body where melanoma can develop, even if it’s not regularly exposed to sunlight.

These are the seven spots on your body you should be aware of, even if the sun doesn’t shine there.

Melanoma that develops on and around the genital area is rare. According to Cancer Research UK, only around three out of 100 vaginal cancers are melanoma, while penile melanoma accounts for only 0.1% of all cases, says Melanoma Focus.

In the case of vaginal melanoma, most people will not experience symptoms. Your doctor or nurse may find the cancer, if it develops, during a routine cervical screening test or vaginal examination. Other tests to diagnose it may include a biopsy, blood tests, MRI scan, CT scan, and ultrasound scan of lymph nodes in the groin.

When it comes to penises, melanoma may be found in the tip of the penis or the foreskin. It can sometimes be found in the shaft or on the scrotum, and can affect men of any age but is most common among men over 60. Symptoms may be similar to other symptoms of types of cancer, or have a non-related cancer cause, and should always be checked out by a GP.

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While rare, melanoma can develop under the fingernails. (Getty Images) (Getty Images)

A form of melanoma called acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM) can appear under the nails. According to Melanoma UK, this type of skin cancer is most common among people with darker skin and of Asian descent, but can also appear on all skin types.

Signs of ALM under the nails can manifest as a new streak in a nail that is not caused by an accident or bruise, or a nail streak that has damaged the fingernail. Nail streaks appear as dark, narrow stripes under the nail. However, not all nail streaks are melanoma and many people have nail streaks that are harmless.

“ALM usually develops on the thumb or big toe,” says Melanoma UK. “However, it can occur under any fingernail or toenail. As the ALM grows, your nail might begin to crack or break altogether.”

ALM can also occur on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. It typically looks like a dark spot of skin surrounded by your normal skin colour, with a clear border between the dark skin and the lighter skin around it. This is one of the most noticeable characteristics of ALM. However, some spots may be reddish or orange in colour, which are known as amelanotic (non-pigmented) melanoma.

Warning signs of ALM include a changing spot in or connected to a mole on the foot or hand; an irregularly-shaped growth on the foot or hand that is changing, growing, or has an unusual colour; or an elevated, thickened patch growing on the sole of the foot or palm of the hand.

While most skin cancers are related to sun exposure, ALM can occur to anyone and may be due to a genetic risk factor in some people. It can go unnoticed for longer, which means this type of cancer usually spreads and becomes more aggressive before it is treated.

A doctor or dermatologist can help examine your scalp. (Getty Images)
A doctor or dermatologist can help examine your scalp. (Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Skin cancer can develop on the scalp, with sun exposure being the most common cause. It often develops unnoticed as it is hidden under hair and is not a part of the body you can see easily.

You can get different types of skin cancer on the scalp, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Melanoma is the rarest of the three, but the most aggressive and has a greater chance of spreading as it is easy to miss. It may appear in different forms, including sores, ulcers and moles, or as bumps that may grow and bleed.

It is rare to develop melanoma on the external ear, and even rarer for it to affect the inner ear. However, warning signs of melanoma on this part of the body include abnormal changes to the skin on the ear, including lumps or bumps; a sore that won’t heal; new marks, spots or moles; marks with abnormal or changing colour, texture, shape or size; and marks that ooze, bleed, or are scaly, itchy or painful.

As melanoma develops from the cells that give skin its colour, it is not very common to develop melanoma in the mouth. According to Cancer Research UK, around one of every 100 oral cavity cancers are melanomas.

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