Before scrolling down, be sure you’ve read this article on skin cancer. You don’t want to miss it.
Skin cancer affects people of all colours and races. So having the melanin pigment in one’s skin does not exempt you from getting skin cancer. This is why you need to be conscious of your skin and practice skin protection routines such as seeking shade when the sun is at its peak and wearing protective clothing that covers the arms and legs. You’d also possibly need to use a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and generously apply a safe broad-spectrum sunscreen to exposed skin.
The damaging myths about black people being exempt from skin cancer are untrue. Studies have shown that black people are actually more susceptible to the least common sub-type of the disease, known as acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM). This kind of melanoma shows up in unexpected places, like the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and under the nails which often leads to late diagnosis and treatment. (The Jamaican singer and musician Bob Marley died of ALM at the age of 36.)
It is true that melanin does offer some protection from the sun by absorbing or deflecting harmful ultraviolet rays. However, it’s not enough to completely ward off the threat of skin cancer. It doesn’t matter how dark your skin may be. The misconception that melanin is universally protective and dark-skinned people do not need to wear sunscreen has to be discarded. Sunscreens are essential. However, using sunscreens and practising sun-safe habits is not enough to completely ward off skin cancer. There is no evidence to show that sunscreens reduce the disease risk in black people.
It is important to know that factors other than UV such as genetic mutations, environmental influence or having a family history of cancer or skin cancer, can cause certain skin cancers. The fact is that the risk factors for melanoma in black or dark-skinned people are uncertain. No one knows precisely what causes non-UV related skin cancer to develop.
Melanoma, as deadly as it can be, is most survivable when detected and treated early. According to dermatologist Dr Perez, a senior vice president of The Skin Cancer Foundation,
“It is advisable for people of all ethnicities to do a monthly skin self-exam and see a dermatologist annually — and sooner if any of the warning signs appear.”
The warning signs include:
- A bump, patch, sore or growth that bleeds, oozes, crusts, doesn’t heal or lasts longer than a month. This may indicate basal cell carcinoma.
- An ulcer, scaly red patch, wart-like growth or sore that sometimes crusts or bleeds could be a sign of squamous cell carcinoma. This type of skin cancer can also develop in old scars or areas of previous physical trauma or inflammation.
- New or existing moles that are asymmetrical, have an irregular border, more than one colour, are larger than a pencil eraser or change in any way. These may indicate melanoma. Pay special attention to suspicious spots on the hands, soles of the feet or under the nails, which could signify.