Toenail Testing has a Future in Preventing Cancer

It is known that smoking greatly increases an individual’s likelihood of developing lung cancer and heart disease. However, many people may not realize how the chemicals taken in from cigarettes affect right down to the tips of your toes! A recent study done at the San Diego School of Medicine is being widely reported on that demonstrates a strong link between smoking, lung cancer and heart disease and toenails!

In the study, toenail clippings were tested for nicotine, the addictive chemical in tobacco products. It was found that men with the highest amounts of nicotine in their toenails were 10.5 times more likely to develop lung cancer and that women with the highest toenail nicotine levels had a 42% increased risk of developing heart disease. The interesting thing about this study is that it showed that toenails can show how much the person had been exposed to tobacco products over the 6 years before the toenails were clipped. Even in people who did not smoke, but were exposed to second hand smoke, nicotine levels in the toenails were quite high in some cases.

While these toenail tests are not yet being used to monitor the likelihood of cancer and heart disease, the toenails are frequently an area to watch for visible signs of problems. Changes in nail color, thickness, and smell can be signs of nail fungus, or onchomycosis. Nails are a good source of nutrients for several types of fungi, making them able to thrive while living there and even spread to other toenails. People with certain chronic diseases including diabetes, circulatory problems, and immunodeficiencies are more prone to developing a nail fungus. Because many smokers also often have circulatory problems, not only would they have displayed high nicotine in testing of their toenails, but odds are that smokers would also have a higher rate of toenail fungus than non-smokers. Keeping your feet dry and clean will make the environment of your toes less inviting to a potential toenail fungus. If you do observe changes in your toenails, it is important to call your podiatrist to avoid a secondary bacterial or yeast infection. A variety of treatments are available for a toenail fungus, including the highly successful PinPointe Foot Laser which we often use for patients here at Columbus Podiatry & Surgery. While oral medications can have side effects on your entire body, and topical creams or lotions such as Lotrimin and Lamisil need to be applied frequently for an extended period of time, the PinPointe laser typically treats toenail fungus without as extensive side effects and in only one quick office visit.

Once perfected for use in the future, toenail testing could be very useful. If a patient can be made aware of a heightened risk of developing lung cancer or heart disease, their likelihood of taking proactive measures such as quitting smoking, exercising, or changing their diet to include healthier foods may increase. For now, unusual changes in the toenails should be checked carefully to avoid toenail fungus!

Please visit for more information or call 614-885 FEET (3338) to schedule an appointment with a podiatrist in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus Podiatry & Surgery is located on the North side of Columbus, Ohio near Worthington.

By Dr. Animesh (Andy) Bhatia