The idea that women of color do not get skin cancer is a fallacy that too many people believe. Simply because people with more melanin in their skin take longer to burn when in the sun does not mean they are immune to skin cancer.
Though their risk is lower than for Whites, it still exists and must be taken seriously. Melanin may prevent burns and premature aging but it will not stop anyone from developing skin cancer.
Getting people, especially women of color, to understand this fact is imperative. Their lives depend on it.
The American Medical Association (AMA) released research in 2010 that found Black women had the highest mortality rate from skin cancer over other ethnicities. This alarming research was published in the Archives of Dermatology and provoked the AMA to pass a resolution in 2010 that called for "greater skin cancer prevention efforts aimed at communities of color."
The misperception that women of color do not get skin cancer may be caused by lack of education when it comes to skin care and protection. Physicians also may not be making these women aware of the risks of skin cancer. Some experts say that there have been very few public service announcements on, or attention brought to skin cancer in the African American and Hispanic communities.
Once women of color become aware that they are at risk for skin cancer, the key to prevent it is wearing sunscreen daily and focusing on early detection. At least once each month, women of color need to examine their skin from head to toe, preferably after a bath or shower.
They should pay particular attention to the hands and feet, specifically the palms and soles, where melanoma type skin cancers often occur in darker-skinned people. Other unusual places that should be routinely checked are fingernails and toenails (looking for a dark streak in the middle of a nail), in the mouth, and in the genital area.
During a body check, one should look for dark brown or black spots in these areas, both small and large, as these can be signs of of progressive melanoma. These spots are signs that are often missed.
Focusing attention on any new spots or spots that have changed since the previous check is important as well. Changes can occur in size, shape, color, or texture of the spot.
A sore that does not heal, especially on the foot, is another clue that skin cancer may be present. For those that find anything unusual, or any area that gives them cause for concern, they should see their dermatologist right away.
Rxforbrownskin.com. Web. 9 March 2012. "Skin Cancer". http://www.rxforbrownskin.com/brownskincare-skincancereva
Essence.com. Web. Published 28 July 2010. "Black women and skin cancer". http://www.essence.com/2010/07/28/black-women-skin-cancer
Reviewed March 9, 2012
by MIchele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith