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Time to spill the tea on skin cancer! If you have skin, you can get skin cancer. 3 Million+ people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. While it’s true that black people have a lower risk of developing skin cancer, it is also true that they are more likely to have lower survival rates when they are diagnosed. The Skin Cancer Foundation defines skin cancer as “the out-of-control growth of abnormal cells in the epidermis, the outermost skin layer, caused by unrepaired DNA damage that triggers mutations. These mutations lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70.” The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC).
People of all skin tones get skin cancer. And, yes, you can get skin cancer even without having prolonged sun exposure or sunburn. Skin cancer is often diagnosed in Black people at later stages. Even when found at an early stage (before it had spread), on average, statistics show that Black people don’t survive as long as White people. Later diagnosis can be deadly when a person has the type of skin cancer known as melanoma. Melanoma is less common than other skin cancers but is more dangerous because it can spread to other parts of the body if untreated. In general, any skin cancer can be challenging to treat in later stages. Fortunately, most skin cancers, including melanoma, can be cured with early detection.
While there is a lower prevalence of skin cancer in Black people compared with White people, disparities exist. Black people with melanoma have a five-year melanoma survival rate of 71%, versus 93% for white patients. Melanoma in people of color most often manifests in areas with little sun exposure. Black people are more than three times more likely than Whites to be diagnosed with melanoma at late stages than White people. The most common type of skin cancer diagnosed in Black people is Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Acral Lentiginous Melanoma (ALM) accounts for most melanoma in people of color. Signs of ALM include black or brown discoloration on the sole of the foot, palm, or hand. ALM may resemble a bruise or stain. Over time it grows in size. Its causes are not fully known. It is the only type of skin melanoma not associated with sun exposure.
Health care advocates believe awareness and education on skincare health and skincare checks will help to increase quicker identification and treatment of skin cancers. Reggae performer Bob Marley is likely the most famous case of ALM. He died after fighting ALM for four years. It started in his big toe. He initially thought the symptoms he was experiencing were due to a soccer injury. Marley died in 1981 at the age of 36.
To aid in the early detection and treatment of skin cancer for people of color, The Skin Care Foundation advises people of color to:
- Get to know your skin type and protect your skin from the sun.
- Also, check yourself monthly and see a dermatologist once a year for a full body exam.
- No matter what, if you notice anything NEW, CHANGING or UNUSUAL on your skin, contact a dermatologist.
Another tip is to have your barber or hairdresser check your scalp for discoloration, moles, or spots.
Another installment of melanated mail has been delivered. Ponder, reflect, and pass it on.