It is often thought that people with skin of color are naturally protected from skin cancer and while it is true their risk of developing skin cancer is lower than Caucasians, they can still get skin cancer.
This misunderstanding of the risks is also the most dangerous for people with skin of color. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, only 59 percent of people with skin of color survive for five years after being diagnosed with melanoma, as compared to 85 percent of Caucasians. This is thought to be because melanoma and other forms of skin cancer are not diagnosed as early in people of color and the cancer is more advanced when it is diagnosed.
Dr. Perry Robins, President of the Skin Cancer Foundation states, ""While there is no question that people of color are less likely to become afflicted with skin cancer, they are much more likely to die from it due to a delay in detection."
The most common form of cancer in people of color is squamous cell carcinoma, especially when it develops from a scar or burn. Basal cell carcinoma is less likely to occur in people of color than in caucasians, however, it is the second most common form of skin cancer in African-Americans and Asian Indians. This type of cancer is normally found in areas of the skin that are most exposed to the sun. According to a study completed at Howard University, almost 90 percent of basal cell carcinomas on brown skin are found on the head or the neck. .
Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, can also offur in skin of color but is more difficult to detect because it often occurs on areas of the skin not usually exposed to the sun, such as the mouth, feet, palms and fingernails but the soles of the feet are the most common place skin cancer begins in people of color.. Because of this, lesions or dark spots can go unnoticed or misdiagnosed as warts, fungus or dark nail. Any new dark spot or a mark that changes in shape or color should immediately be seen by a dermatologist.
Besides sun exposure, factors that increase the risk of developing skin cancer for people of color are burn scars, albinism, radiation therapy, trauma, immunosuppression and preexising moles.
As with all people, those with skin of color should take precautions to help prevent skin cancer. Using a sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher), limiting exposure to the sun between 10:00 A.M and 4:00 P.M., covering up with light colored clothing and wide brimmed hats and wearing sunglasses are just as important for people of color as for Caucasians.
Because many people of color believe they are not at risk of skin cancer, education is extremely important. Learning about the warning signs of skin cancer, practicing regular self-examinations and having an annual skin examination by a dermatologist can help skin cancer from being detected early and in most cases, when detected early, skin cancer is highly treatable.
"Melanoma and Skin of Color," 2009, January 29, Staff Writer, Skin Cancer Foundation
"Skin Cancer and Skin of Color," Date Unknown, Mona Gohara, M.D. and Maritza Perez, M.D. Skin Cncer Foundation
"Skin of Color," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, American Academy of Dermatologists