The reigning Miss Illinois USA 2018, Karolina Jasko, is going public with her battle with melanoma — which she surprisingly got on one of her fingernails.
Yes, nail melanoma is a real disease.
Jasko developed a black vertical line on her right thumbnail when she was just a high school senior. However, she didn’t seek medical attention until it became infected. That’s when she was officially diagnosed.
Fortunately, after three surgeries, doctors were able to get rid of the skin cancer, but she lost her thumbnail because of it.
“I’m a little self-conscious about it, but I was lucky,” said the 20-year-old in a news release from the American Academy of Dermatology.
“The doctors originally thought they would have to remove my whole thumb, and you never realize how much you use your right thumb until you think about losing it. And if I had waited any longer to see a doctor and have my first surgery, the melanoma could have spread through my whole body, and it would have been a lot worse.”
As with all cancers, early detection is key to beating nail melanoma, which is often overlooked and diagnosed too late.
“It’s important to regularly examine your whole body for signs of melanoma and other skin cancers, and that includes your nails,” explained board-certified dermatologist and nail specialist Shari Lipner, MD, Ph.D., who practices at New York City’s Weill Cornell Medicine.
“Because early detection plays such a big role in nail melanoma prognosis, it’s important to keep an eye on your nails and be aware of any changes to them.”
The American Academy of Dermatology said that the main sign of nail melanoma, which can occur on both fingernails and toenails, is a new brown or black band in the nail. Other symptoms can include the “presence of pigment on the adjacent skin, splitting or bleeding of the nail, or infection-like symptoms such as drainage, pus, and pain.”
While dark bands can just be from something benign like blood under the nails, a bacterial or fungal infection, or residual pigment, if the band grows wider or darker, Lipner suggests seeing a dermatologist right away.
Anyone can develop nail melanoma, but it seems to occur more frequently in older adults and people with skin of color.
Lipner said that the disease’s two main risk factors are nail trauma and a personal or family history of melanoma.
In Jasko’s case, her mother previously suffered melanoma.
“People may not realize that you can get melanoma in your nails, but it’s important to be aware of that risk,” she said.
“If you have the slightest concern about something on your nail, go and get it checked out by a dermatologist [as] it could end up saving your finger — or your life.”
Jasko, who is studying psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, competed in the Miss USA pageant this past May.