Skin cancer is often thought of as a health concern linked to people with fair skin. However, this misconception has led to a lack of awareness within the Black community about the risks associated with skin cancer. One prevalent myth is that individuals with darker skin tones are naturally protected against skin cancer due to having higher levels of melanin, a substance in the body that produces hair, eye and skin pigmentation.
Melanin works wonders for Black people because it can block harmful UV rays from penetrating our skin. The darker you are, the more melanin you have, which can help to thwart off pesky UV rays. A study conducted by the CDC found that between 2000 and 2010 around “13 percent of Black women” experienced sunburn compared to “9 percent of Black men.” That’s low in comparison to white men and women. Around “66 percent of white women and just over 65 percent of white men” were victims of sunburn during the same period.
While melanin does offer some protection by absorbing UV radiation, it doesn’t make Black individuals immune to skin cancer.
When skin cancer occurs in people with darker skin, it is often diagnosed at a more advanced stage, leading to poorer health outcomes. Black people can develop hyperpigmentation and scarring if exposed to harsh sunlight for too long. We are also almost four times more likely to be diagnosed with advanced-stage melanoma, a form of skin cancer, because there’s an assumption that Black people aren’t at risk of developing the disease, according to Healthline. Common symptoms like skin ulcerations and lumps often go unnoticed.
Long-term exposure to the sun can increase our risk for skin cancer, but there are things we can do to prevent the condition from getting out of hand. Dermatologists recommend that everyone regardless of skin color, use an SPF skin protectant of 30 or higher to fight back against harmful UV rays. When you’re at the beach or walking outside during peak sunlight hours, consider wearing protective clothing or walking underneath the shade to shield your skin from the sun.
Understanding the importance of preventive measures can significantly reduce the risk of skin cancer.
Regular skin checks and screenings are essential for detecting skin cancer early. Black individuals should be proactive about their skin health, recognizing that skin cancer can manifest differently on darker skin tones. Any changes in moles, the appearance of new growths, or persistent skin abnormalities should be promptly addressed with a healthcare professional. Black people can detect early signs of skin cancer by looking at their skin or mouths for any abnormalities. Consult a doctor if you see the following:
- dark spots, growths, or patches that appear to be changing, growing, or bleeding.
- patches that feel rough and dry
- dark lines underneath or around fingernails and toenails
- sore that has a hard time healing, especially if the sore appears in a scar or on skin that was injured in the past
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