Skin Cancer Is Color Blind: Tips on Prevention

Skin cancer is less common with darker skin but may be more deadly without preventive steps

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) While people of color may have a lower risk for skin cancer than others, it still poses a threat and is often found at a more advanced and deadly stage in this population.

To help people of color prevent skin cancer and detect it early, dermatologists have released a new study including recommendations on how to protect the skin from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays and examine the body for signs of skin cancer.

"Check yourself regularly for signs of skin cancer."

Henry W. Lim, MD, chairman of the department of dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, and other dermatologists issued recommendations for skin cancer prevention and detection for people of color based on an extensive review of scientific evidence regarding the incidence, risk factors and characteristics of skin cancer among this population.

The authors underscored that African Americans and Latinos are more likely to die from melanoma than Caucasians and that this may be due to late detection of the disease. On average, one American dies from melanoma every hour, according to the American Cancer Society, but the five-year survival rate for African Americans is 73 percent, compared to 91 percent in Caucasians.

The Skin Cancer Foundation says that the incidence of melanoma among Latinos increased by almost a third in just over a decade between 1992 and 2005.

Glenn Kolansky, MD, a dermatologist and director of the Advanced Dermatology Surgery and Laser Center in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, told dailyRx News, "It is often believed that skin cancer does not occur in people of color becasue they do not burn as often as Caucasian skin types."

Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, however, are one of the skin’s biggest enemies. Basal cell carcinoma — a frequently detected cancer among Latinos and Asian Americans — is most often found on areas of body that are most exposed to the sun, such as the head and neck.

Dr. Lim and colleagues gave the following advice to reduce exposure to UV rays:

  • Stay in the shade when possible.
  • Wear clothing that helps block the sun’s rays, such as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
  • Do not use tanning beds.
  • Put sunscreen on skin that will be exposed to the sun. About 15 to 30 minutes before going out into the sun, apply lotions and creams with a sunscreen protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Reapply the sunscreen every two hours, and after swimming and sweating.

Dr. Lim and team also suggested that those with darker skin take a vitamin D supplement because they tend to be more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency.

Many cancers in people of color, however, develop on the body in areas that are not exposed to the sun, according to Dr. Lim and his team. Of this population, about 30 to 40 percent of melanomas are detected at the bottom of the foot.

The most common skin cancer among African Americans, squamous cell carcinoma, often appears on the feet, legs, hips or buttocks.

In the Asian American community, close to 8 percent of melanomas appear in the mouth.

By paying attention to one’s body, an individual can spot signs of cancer before the disease progresses. The authors suggested that people perform a self-exam of their skin at least once a month and look carefully at soles, palms, fingernails, toenails, mouth, groin and buttocks. Patients are advised to note changes in spots or lesions, and look for itching and bleeding, including ulcers and wounds that will not heal.

"Patients should be aware of any lesions that change in size, shape or color," stressed Dr. Kolansky.

“Skin cancer can look and develop differently in individuals with skin of color than it does in individuals with lighter skin,” said Dr. Lim in a press release. “That’s why it’s so important for everyone to check their skin regularly and make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist if you see anything suspicious.”

Surgery, radiation and medication may be used to remove skin cancers.

These recommendations were published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Review Date: 
February 6, 2014
Last Updated:
February 7, 2014