Why Melanoma Is Deadliest Among the African American Community
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. While we’ll preach about the importance of sun protection any month of the year or day of the week, there’s heightened chatter about skin cancer right now and we are taking advantage of it to bring you even more information. To start? We’ll be debunking one of the most common myths about skin cancer—that it can only affect fair skin types.
Everyone is susceptible to skin cancer, regardless of skin tone or race. We repeat: Nobody is immune to skin cancer.
Assuming that your darker skin is safe from melanoma incidence is a terrible myth to fall for, one that—according to a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD)—can have devastating consequences. When comparing melanoma survival rates across racial groups, the findings found that African Americans had a significantly lower survival rate, with the proportion of later stage cutaneous melanoma (stages II-IV) being greater in this group compared with Caucasians. The conclusion? More emphasis is needed for melanoma screening and awareness in non-Caucasian populations to help improve survival outcomes.
WHAT IS MELANOMA?
Let’s start on the basics of melanoma. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation. These cancerous growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells—primarily caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds—triggers mutations that causes the skin cells to multiply rapidly, forming malignant tumors. Most often, melanoma can resemble moles, and some can even develop from moles.
DON’T FALL FOR THE MYTH
If you think that your darker skin doesn’t need sunscreen with broad spectrum SPF—meaning it can protect against both UVA and UVB rays—it’s time for you to get more serious about sun protection. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, most skin cancers are associated with the sun’s harmful UV rays or from the UV light created by tanning beds. Although darker skin produces more melanin—which can help protect the skin—it can still get sunburned and could develop skin cancer from UV damage. The biggest issue is that not everyone is aware of this fact. The study showed that 63 percent of African American participants admitted to never using sunscreen.
Board-certified dermatologist, and Skincare.com expert, Dr. Lisa Ginn agrees that a higher priority should be placed on UV protection for olive and darker skin tones who may not know they need it. “Unfortunately," she says, "often by the time we catch skin cancer on patients with this skin color, it’s too late.”
TAKE NECESSARY PRECAUTIONS
To potentially avoid the visible signs of premature aging and skin damage, all skin types and tones should take the necessary precautions. Remember: Early detection is key, which is why it is important to get yearly skin scans by your doctor.
Wear Broad-Spectrum SPF Every Day: The sun never takes a break, and neither should your skin’s protection against it! Apply water-resistant, broad-spectrum SPF 15 or higher on all exposed areas of skin daily. Reapply at least every two hours— especially after toweling off, sweating, or taking a dip.
Editor’s note: It’s important to be aware that there currently is no sunscreen on the market that can fully filter out 100% of the sun’s harmful rays, which is why additional sun protection measures should be taken.
Avoid Peak Sun Hours: Headed outdoors for an extended period of time? Avoid peak sun hours—between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.—when the rays are most direct and powerful. If you must be outside, seek shade under an umbrella, tree, or covered awning, in addition to wearing sunscreen.
Ditch the tanning beds: Think tanning indoors is safer than the sun? Think again. Research shows that there is no such thing as a “safe” tanning bed, tanning booth, or sun lamp. In fact, the AAD reports that just one indoor tanning session can increase your risk of developing melanoma by 20 percent.
Wear Protective Clothing: Did you know that clothing can protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays if you can’t stay indoors or find shade? Clothes can help block much of the harmful UV rays that we’re exposed to when we spend time outdoors. Cover up with long shirts and pants, and opt for wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses. If it’s very warm out, reach for breathable, lightweight fabrics that won’t weigh you down.
Check for Warning Signs: Check your skin monthly for any new or changing moles, lesions, or markings. Some skin cancers can be treated if caught early, which is why this step can make a huge difference. A good way to scan for warning signs is by using the ABCDE method. When examining your moles, check for these key factors:
- A for Asymmetry: typical moles are usually round and symmetrical. If you were to draw a line through your mole and found that the two halves do not match, the asymmetry is a clear warning sign for melanoma.
- B for Borders: benign moles will have smooth and even borders that aren’t scalloped.
- C for Color: typical moles have just one color, like a single shade of brown.
- D for Diameter: typical moles tend to be smaller in diameter than malignant ones.
- E for Evolving: benign moles look the same over time. Make note of any changes in size, color, shape, and elevation of your moles and birthmarks. For a more diligent scan, make an appointment with a professional.
Get a Yearly Skin Exam: Make an appointment to visit your dermatologist for a full-body check at least once per year. Your doctor will give any suspicious-looking marks or lesions a thorough check with bright lights and magnifiers, as well as scan hard-to-reach areas. The whole scan shouldn’t take too long. Plus—who knows—that brief scan might just save your life.