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  The Minority/ Black Health Blog  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Being Black Does Not Make You Immune to Sun Burn and Skin Cancer

African American With Sun Burn

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It is caused by abnormal growth of cells called melanocytes. These are the cells that produce melanin which gives skin its color. But too much exposure to sun and ultraviolet rays from tanning beds can cause the cells to grow abnormally. This condition is called melanoma, or skin cancer.

All skins are susceptible to the risk of melanoma. Yet, African Americans have a significantly lower survival rate from melanoma (58.8 percent) than Caucasians (84.8 percent). This is especially worrisome when considering that the incidence of getting melanoma in African Americans is actually much lower than among Caucasians. Why?

One reason suspected is the misconception that darker skin makes African Americans immune to melanoma. This is not true. More pigment in the skin offers some protection but does not provide immunity to skin cancer. It is believed that warning messages regarding melanoma may often go unheeded by African Americans because they do not believe it applies to them.

It also doesn't help that the media focuses primarily on fair-skinned Caucasians in ads pertaining to the dangers of skin cancer. It is not uncommon for African Americans to ignore the warnings until the cancer is in the later stages of development, which could account for the higher mortality rate.

In addition, melanoma in African Americans often appears in places different than how it appears on Caucasians. On darker skin, melanoma often appears under the fingernails or toenails, on the palms of the hands, and on the soles of the feet. It can even appear on the mucous membranes of the mouth, nasal passages or genitals. What is different about these locations is that they are not areas which are exposed to the sun. So they may be ignored as not being associated with skin cancer. This may explain why 32.1 percent of African American patients are diagnosed with stage III or stage IV melanoma, compared to only 12.7 percent of Caucasian patients. Stage III and IV melanoma is usually fatal.

Melanoma can occur on any skin color, making it extremely important for people of all skin types to take precautions in the sun, use sun protection products, and watch for any changes in moles or the appearance of new moles. Melanoma is treatable if caught in its early stages and the chances of recovery are very good. But if it not diagnosed early, melanoma can grow deeper into the skin and spread to other parts of the body.

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