When Karolina Jasko was 18, she was at a salon getting a set of acrylic nails.
It was 2016 when a nail technician noticed something unusual on the Chicago-based woman’s finger — she had a black vertical line on her thumbnail.
“Neither of us were too concerned because we both assumed it was just a bruise,” she told Global News. “A few days later, an infection occurred on that very thumb which caused me to return to the nail salon to get my acrylic removed.”
Jasko thought she got an infection from the salon, and when the nail was removed, the black vertical line was still there.
Courtesy of Karolina Jasko
“I went to see my primary-care physician who referred me to a dermatologist right away because he told me it was a sign of melanoma,” she said, adding her family had a history of melanoma. “He didn’t want me to take this lightly.”
Jasko had developed a rare form of melanoma under her nail, something she found “extremely shocking.”
“I didn’t realize that at age 18, as a senior in high school, I would have to deal with something like this. But I had to stay strong for my mom and my family and I just hoped for the best, and luckily everything ended up being okay.” She eventually had her nail, and the cancer, removed.
Courtesy of Karolina Jasko
Toronto-based dermatologist Dr. Julia Carroll of Compass Dermatology told Global News this form of skin cancer can “hide” in certain places, including the eyes, in between the toes, behind the ears or on the back.
“[The back is] the most common place for melanoma in men and the backs of the legs, the calves, is the most common area for women,” she said.
Rare type of melanoma
Dr. Vishal Patel, assistant professor of dermatology at the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences, told Today.com, melanoma on the nails, hands and feet make up less than five per cent of all melanomas. However, they are more aggressive.
Black, South Asian and other groups of people with darker skin are more likely to have this type of melanoma called acral lentiginous melanoma.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, this type of melanoma is not linked to being exposed to the sun.
“Acral lentiginous melanoma appears as a small, flat spot of discoloured skin that is often dark brown or black. It usually grows outward across the surface of the skin for a long time before it starts to grow down into the skin,” the site noted. This type of melanoma appears on the soles of the feet, the palms of the hand, or like Jasko’s case, under the nail.
Signs of melanoma under the nail. Credit: Getty Images
Patel added the main symptom of this type of melanoma is a pigmented vertical streak on the nail. It can look like a line drawn by a marker, but not all pigmentation lines are a sign of cancer — sometimes it can be completely normal.
Carroll said there are two things you should look for if you see a streak of colour in your nail: Is the width of the pigmentation more than 40 per cent of the nail? And is it widening over time?
If you notice these changes, speak with a doctor right away.
The other concern is around nail salons using ultraviolet lights during gel manicures. While doctors could not link the two in Jasko’s case, Carroll said these lights are like “tanning beds” for your nails.
“My concern with that type of ultraviolet exposure is not as much with the melanomas… it is the UV damage to the hand.” The tissue, around the nails start to look like “tissue paper” because you lose collagen at a faster rate. She suggested wearing sunscreen before using this type of service.
May is also Melanoma Awareness Month, and Jasko said she is sharing her story now because people don’t realize how real and deadly skin cancer is.
“Yes, I had a family history, but that’s not always the only case,” she explained. “No one really goes to see a dermatologist as regularly as they go see a primary-care physician, or dentist, or eye doctor, or gynecologist. We need to add a dermatologist to our list.”
She and Carroll also stressed sun safety: don’t forget to protect your skin in and around the nails, either with sunscreen or gloves.
Jasko, who is a beauty queen, also urged people to feel confident in their skin.
“I suffered with extreme confidence issues due to the scars that were left on my body. I thought I was ugly due to them and that people would think I was weird and be grossed out,” she continued.
“It took me a while to get past that, and I ended up walking the Miss USA stage with those very scars. We need to realize beauty takes on different forms and we are all beautiful no matter our skin colour, our body shape, whether we have a scar or mole.”