Half of the people who learn they have melanoma of the foot die within five years because the cancer had already spread all through their body by the time it was diagnosed.
More than 8,100 melanoma patients die of the disease every year, but if melanoma is detected in its earliest stages, 92 percent of patients can be alive after five years.
Unlike many other types of cancer, melanoma strikes people of all age groups, even the young. Whites are 10 times more likely to develop melanoma than blacks.
But studies suggest that more than half of melanoma cases in blacks involve the foot, where late diagnosis leads to a higher death rate. Routine foot self-examinations increase the possibility of noticing suspicious moles, freckles or spots.
"The first question I'm going to ask a patient is, How long has it been there?'" says Neil Campbell, DPM, FACFAS, a spokesman for the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS).
Foot and ankle surgeons advise people to focus on the three most common areas for foot melanoma: the soles, between the toes, and around or under the toenails.
Campbell notes melanoma can develop anywhere on the body including areas that receive little sun exposure, such as the feet and ankles.
He recommends people to visit a doctor immediately if a mole, freckle or spot starts to change over the course of a month and becomes asymmetrical or changes its border, colour, diameter or elevation.