Susan Lennon MSW, LCSW Content Strategist
Communications Consultant
Specializing in Thought Leadership and B2B/B2C Marketing Communications

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The Nails Know
USA Weekend Magazine, August 28, 2005
by Susan T. Lennon

If your nails look strange, or start to change, you might have skin cancer or another disease. ”The nails are a window into the body,” says leading  New York dermatologist Joshua Fox, MD, who suggests that you see a skin doctor to rule out underlying sickness if you have any of these conditions:

  • A new or changing brown-black streak running the length of your nail and widening at the base can signal potentially deadly melanoma – especially if only one nail is affected. If you’re dark-skinned, you’re 77% likely to have harmless dark pigment on your nails – but you can still get melanoma. Fifty percent of these skin cancers will crop up on your nails.
  • Nails that resemble the back of a teaspoon (doctors call them “clubbed”), can indicate a lung problem, heart disease, or liver dysfunction. But if they’re curved in, like the cup portion of a teaspoon, and whitish or very pale, you could have anemia.

Other disease markers that show up on nails:


Nail Appearance

Liver Diseases

White nails

Kidney Diseases

Half of nail is pink, other half is white

Heart Conditions

Nail bed is red

Lung Diseases

Yellow, thick nails; slow growth rate;


Yellowish nails with slight blush at the base

Connective Tissue Disease (e.g., Lupus)

Irregular red lines at the base of the nail

Thyroid Diseases

Brittle nails, lifting up from nail bed

These malady markers appear on both the toe and fingernails – but they’re easier to spot on the hands. Women who polish their nails should inspect them when getting them “done,” says Fox, who also cautions against using non-sterilized equipment at nail salons: “Buy your own kit and bring it with you – the investment’s worth it for your health.”

For additional information, visit MedlinePlus' Medical Encyclopedia -- and see your doctor for any concerns.

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