Courtesy of Roswell Park Cancer Talk Blog

It’s a myth that people of color, including African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders, don’t get skin cancer. In fact, Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley died at age 36 from a rare form of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.

People with darker skin don’t get skin cancer as frequently as do Caucasians, but when they are diagnosed, the cancer is often more advanced, more difficult to treat, and more likely to be fatal. Three skin cancer types you need to know about are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation, from sun exposure or tanning beds, plays a major role in developing different types of skin cancer, especially basal cell carcinoma. Other factors also play a prominent role in squamous cell cancer and melanoma, affecting those with pigmented skin. They include burn scars, chronic injury, a depressed immune system (such as after organ transplant), skin lupus, albinism, and non-healing leg ulcers.

Melanoma in people of color is uncommon, and 75% of cases appear on skin areas not typically exposed to the sun, such as the palms, soles, mouth, genitals, and under fingernails and toenails. Among African Americans, 30% to 40% of melanomas are found on the soles of the feet, resulting in it being overlooked and diagnosed at a more advanced stage.

How to Protect Yourself

  • Be sun smart. Everyone must protect their skin from the sun. Ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays damage the skin and cause wrinkling, premature aging, and skin cancer. Darker skin does not burn as easily, but damage you can’t immediately see can be particularly worrisome. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily that protects against both these rays with an SPF of at least 30. Make sure your sunscreen is water-resistant and reapply it every two hours, and more frequently if you are swimming or exercising.
  • Check your skin regularly. Skin cancer can develop anywhere on the skin, so check everywhere, from head to toe, once a month. Notice any spot that has changed or looks irregular, and any sore that does not heal. Becoming familiar with your skin will help you notice growths that change or stand out as different or suspicious.
  • Here’s how to check. Raise your hands and stand before a full-length mirror to examine your body’s front, back, and sides. Use a hand mirror to check the back of your neck, scalp, back, and buttocks. Bend your elbows to examine your forearms, and check your upper arms, hands, and palms. Check the front and back of your legs, feet, soles, and between your toes. If any spots are different from the others, or are changing, itching, or bleeding, make an appointment to see a dermatologist. Check your fingernails and toenails for a band of brown or black pigment, or an extension of pigment to the side or base of a nail. Show any suspicious marks or lesions to your health care provider. For more information about skin cancer among people of color, visit