Former beauty queen diagnosed with rare form of skin cancer after discovering dark line on her thumbnail

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Karolina Jasko was only 18-years-old when she was diagnosed with melanoma after a nail technician noticed a dark line on her thumbnail. (Image via TODAY/Courtesy of Karolina Jasko).

A former beauty queen is sharing her story of how she developed skin cancer from an unlikely source: gel polish manicures.

Karolina Jasko was just a senior in high school when a nail technician pointed out a thin, purple line on her thumbnail during a manicure. The Illinois-native had been receiving manicures complete with acrylics (artificial nails) and gel polish approximately twice a month for several years but had never noticed what appeared at first glance to be an oddly shaped bruise.

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It wasn’t until a week later when the nail became swollen and red that she visited her doctor worried that her nail had been infected. Jasko said her doctor didn’t seem concerned by the infection, but paid more attention to the mysterious purple line that ran vertically down her thumbnail.

Things took a turn when her doctor referred Jasko to a dermatologist who told her she needed to have her nail biopsied that day at a nearby hospital to test for skin cancer.

The now 22-year-old had always been aware of her family’s history with skin caner and said her mother had always been concerned about monitoring and checking any moles for any changes.The biopsy, which required a portion of Jasko’s thumbnail be removed for testing, confirmed that the teen did in fact have melanoma.

“It was overwhelming because everything happened so quick,” Jasko said in an interview with TODAY. “It was so scary… My mom was like, ‘I can’t believe that I never even thought that it could be in your nail.’”

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While it’s uncertain what caused Jasko to develop melanoma, some experts have pointed to her gel manicures as a likely culprit. The manicure requires nails be placed under UV lights emitting UVA rays to harden the polish. Melanoma occurs when UV radiation, either through sun exposure or UV rays found in tanning beds, causes cellular damage on the skin resulting in uncontrollable cell growth. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma is considered more aggressive than other forms of skin cancer like basal cell carcinoma (BCC) due to how quickly it can spread and how hard it can be to detect; approximately 70-80 per cent of melanomas occur on normal looking skin, while the remaining 20-30 per cent can be found in moles.

A nail technician alerted Karolina Jasko to a dark purple line under her thumbnail, which you can see at the base of the nail below the white gel polish. (Image via TODAY/Courtesy of Karolina Jasko).

Following her diagnosis, doctors debated amputation but were able to save Jasko’s thumb. Instead, they removed not only her thumbnail but the entire thumb matrix, the area responsible for nail cell growth. Instead of a thumbnail, Jasko now has a skin graft from her groin where a nail would be.

Doctors told Jasko the nail infection, although unrelated to the melanoma, likely saved her life.

“They still don’t know where the infection came from. They said that was like a sign from God… because if I would have waited longer and not come in with that, it could have been possible the melanoma would have spread,” Jasko said.

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Melanoma is found on the nails, hands or feet is categorized as acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM). Of the four subtypes of melanoma, ALM is considered the rarest form of melanoma comprising approximately 5% of melanoma cases (the remaining three are superficial spreading, lentigo melanoma and nodule melanoma; of the 5% of ALM cases, a majority are found in people of colour.

The main symptom ALM is a noticeably darker spot surrounded by your normal skin colour. They can also occur on the palms or the soles of feet and under the nails as a “nail streak” which as it grows and progresses can cause the nail to become damaged or cracked.

Doctors were able to save Jasko's thumb, but had to surgically remove the entire nail and nail matrix after she was diagnosed with melanoma (Image via TODAY/Courtesy of Karolina Jasko).

Most cases of melanoma can be treated with early detection, however can quickly spread to deeper layers of the skin and throughout the body and can sometimes prove fatal.

Practicing sun safety is vital to protecting yourself against skin cancers. For optimal protection, apply a sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 to your face on a daily basis as part of your skincare routine. Prior to sun exposure, apply sunscreen to your entire body including your hands, feet, neck and ears and reapply every two hours to ensure UV coverage, especially if you’re sweating.

If you go for gel manicures, apply sunscreen to your hands at least 15 minutes before receiving your manicure - and remove any nail and toe polish before doctor or dermatologist visits so they can inspect your nails.

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In the four years since she was diagnosed with melanoma, Jasko went on to become Miss Illinois 2019 and is set to graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Jasko has since ditched the gel manicures and remains diligent of checking any new spots or marks on her body for potential signs of melanoma.

“I am still getting my check-ups for my skin, and it is still incredibly important to me,” Jasko said. "I will be doing this for the rest of my life to ensure I am taking all precautions necessary. I still highly recommend for everyone to add a dermatologist to their list of doctors because early detection saved my life.”

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