One reason that doctors may miss skin cancer is that it can show up in nontraditional places where they do not expect to see it. It is most common on the hands, arms, neck and face — in other words, on all of the places that are most often exposed to direct sunlight. This is where doctors are going to check first.
However, you can get skin cancer elsewhere on your body. For instance, some people have gotten it under a fingernail. This can make the nail turn brown or black. The doctor could overlook it as a fungal infection or an injured nail.
Another unexpected spot is on the bottom of your foot. You would think that the soles of your feet would get very little sun exposure, but there have been cases of cancer in this hidden and often overlooked tissue. It is most common in African American and Asian patients.
A third place that skin cancer may hide is on your eyelid. This one at least makes sense from an exposure standpoint, as it could get as much sun exposure as the rest of your face. However, opening your eyes may hide the spot from your doctor, so it can get ignored during the exam unless the doctor remembers to tell you to close your eyes. People often assume that this area gets less exposure since the skin is hidden when your eyes are open — especially when wearing sunglasses.
Doctors need to remember that cancer can show up almost anywhere. When they make the wrong diagnosis or overlook something, it can cost patients their lives, and the family members need to know what rights they have.