(ARA) - Walking on the beach, frolicking in the surf, participating in sports, strolling through a theme park while on vacation - your feet will carry you through a lot of fun this summer. But can paying attention to them help you avoid the most common form of cancer in America? Possibly, experts say.
Each year, more than 1 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Yet only 32 percent of Americans use sunscreen to protect themselves from the sun's damaging rays, NCI says in its Cancer Trends Progress Report. Even when sunscreen is applied, the feet are often neglected.
"While skin cancers typically appear on areas of sun-exposed skin like the face, arms and hands, they can also occur on areas that get much less sun, such as the feet," says Dr. Joseph Caporusso, a podiatrist and president of the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). "With flip-flops and sandals being common summer foot attire, more Americans than ever are exposing their feet to the sun's potential harmful rays."
Sun exposure, however, isn't the whole story when it comes to skin cancers on the feet. More often, skin cancers of the feet can be linked to exposure to viruses or chemicals, chronic inflammation or irritation, or even inherited traits, according to APMA.
"Unfortunately, the skin on our feet is often overlooked during routine medical checkups," Caporusso notes. "Yet, foot health can be an indicator of overall health. It's important for everyone to have their feet checked regularly by today's podiatrist for any signs or symptoms of skin cancer."
APMA offers a few tips for protecting your feet this summer:
* Apply the same broad-spectrum sunscreen you use on the rest of your body to your feet, including the tops, on and between the toes, and even the soles of your feet. Reapply every two hours when you're out in the sun and more frequently if you spend a lot of time in and out of the water.
* Conduct regular self exams of your feet. Look for signs of problems, such as cracking or sores. Keep in mind that freckles and moles on the soles of the feet are very unusual, and may be a sign you should see a podiatrist.
* Be aware of the warning signs for malignant melanoma - the most deadly type of skin cancer. This type of cancer may occur on the skin of the feet and on occasion, beneath a toenail. Learn the ABCDEs of melanoma: Asymmetrical lesions, Border irregularity, Color variation, Diameter larger than a pencil eraser, and Evolving characteristics of any of the ABCD traits. If you notice a mole, freckle or lesion with any of these characteristics, have your health care provider take a look.
* Skin cancer of the feet can easily be mistaken for other, less serious problems. For example squamous cell carcinomas, the second-most-common type of skin cancer, may resemble a plantar wart, fungal infection, eczema, an ulcer or other common dermatological condition.
* Skin cancers in the lower legs, ankles and feet may look very different from those that occur in the rest of the body. Podiatrists are uniquely qualified among medical professionals to treat lower extremities, so their knowledge and training can help patients detect both benign and malignant skin tumors early.
To learn more and find a podiatrist in your area, log on to www.apma.org.