Melanoma Is Not Just a “White Thing”

Blacks can die—and are dying—from skin cancer.

Posted: 05/03/2011 02:40 PM EDT
skin cancer

Melanoma is the most deadly kind of skin cancer. It's a common misconception that African Americans don't have to worry about skin cancer because they have darker skin. This falsehood is one reason why Blacks die more from skin cancer than any other ethnicity.


Even the media ignores African-Americans when it comes to commercials for sunblock, rarely showing any darker faces. It's true that the fair-skinned people who sunburn easily are more likely to get melanoma, but African-Americans should protect their skin from the sun as well.


Melanoma is caused by exposing your skin to too many ultraviolet rays from the sun and artificial light. The extra melanin, or pigment, in African-American skin does help protect them against skin cancer but not completely.


The issue is that once African-Americans are diagnosed with melanoma, it's usually so late that their survival rate is significantly lower than whites, making them 59 percent less likely to live compared to whites, who are 84 percent more likely. This is particularly crazy because melanoma has a 96 percent cure rate when it's caught early.


With African-American skin, a mole or spot on your body that has changed is not the only symptom of skin cancer. You should also look for brown or black bands under your nails on your thumbs or big toes. Sun protection is a good start, but African-Americans should also check their skin, paying special attention to the feet, hands, nails, between their fingers and toes, and even areas that are not exposed to the sun. Visit a dermatologist immediately if you see anything that doesn't look right.


It's a good idea to wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Remember the "shadow rule": If your shadow is shorter than you, it's likely that dangerous UV rays are at their strongest.


(Photo:Ross Hailey/Landov )