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Doctors Warn Of Potentially Deadly Form Of Nail Cancer

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Most people know it's important to get freckles and moles checked out by a doctor, but a small spot under your nail could be just as dangerous.

As CBS 2's Dr. Max Gomez reported Friday, New York-based nail specialist Dr. Dana Stern is warning of a potentially deadly nail cancer - not technically the nail itself, but malignant melanoma of the nail bed, the skin under the nail.

"There was a brown line across my finger nail for I would say maybe a few years," patient Julie told Gomez.

"Just like you have moles on your skin you can have a mole on your nail matrix which is where the nail grows from," explained Stern.

Julie sought out Dr. Stern when the stripe in her nail began to change.

"It started as a light line and then it eventually started getting wider and the middle of it started to get really black," Julie said.

Her cancer was caught early, but Stern warns that you need to be vigilant if you see something unusual under your nail.

"People will sometimes develop an early melanoma and think it's an injury and they don't even really realize they're supposed to go to their dermatologist," Stern said.

The thumb, big toe, and index finger nail are the most common nails to be affected. Some of the warning signs include:

* If the stripe is very dark

* If there are blurred borders

* If there are changes in a stripe that's been there

* A patient's medical history is a factor as well

Treatment depends on the stage of cancer, ranging from removing the melanoma and tissue around it, to amputation of the fingertip.

Julie used to wear a Bandaid to hide her finger for a long time after her surgery, but she said she feels differently now. "Just be proud that you're a survivor."

Nail cancer is more common in African-Americans, Gomez reported. It's what reggae legend Bob Marley died of.

While most discolored nails or nail stripes are not cancer, it is something that you should  have checked out by a dermatologist because like most cancers, early detection and treatment increases your chances for a cure.

Dr. Stern said there is no evidence linking cosmetic nail treatments and nail melanoma.

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