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Making Sense of the Link Between Skin Color and Skin Cancer

August 24, 2018

While those with lighter skin tones are generally the most at risk for skin cancer, anyone with any skin color can get skin cancer. Unfortunately, many patients are under the impression that those with darker skin are not at risk for skin cancer. “People who have darker skin tones often believe that they’re not at risk for developing skin cancer, but that is a dangerous misconception,”  says dermatologist Maritza Perez of the Skin Cancer Foundation. This is at least one reason people with darker skin tones are diagnosed in the later stages, when the disease may be more advanced. While most skin cancers are curable if caught and treated early, delayed discovery and diagnosis of skin cancer can lead to more difficult treatment, involving possible disfigurement and even death.

Most skin cancer is caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and tanning beds. While UV exposure plays a huge role in skin cancer in Caucasians, the primary reason for skin cancer in people of color is often unclear. The CDC reported that among those of African descent, Asians, Hawaiians, and Native Americans, skin cancers are most likely to appear in the mouth or on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and under the nails.

Skin Color and Skin Cancer Types

Additionally, different ethnicities are at higher risk for particular skin cancers. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, Latinos, Chinese and Japanese Asians tend to develop basal cell carcinoma (BCC), the most common skin cancer. The second most common skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), however, is more frequent among African Americans and Asian Indians.

Patient Education

The most important take away in making sense of the link between skin color and skin cancer is that both medical providers and the public need to be educated about skin cancer risks. Since sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer, it’s important that everyone, including people of color, protect their skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

To protect your patient’s skin and reduce their risk of skin cancer, recommend that they:

  1. Seek shade whenever possible. A good rule of thumb is if your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
  2. Wear sun-protective clothing. To identify sun-protective garments, look for an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) label.
  3. Wear sunscreen when outdoors. Use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  4. Use extra caution near water, snow and sand, as they reflect the sun’s damaging UV rays, which can increase a patient’s risk of sunburn.

Encourage your patients, including those with darker skin tones, to use proven sun protection strategies. Find out how Sensus Healthcare can help provide your dermatological practice a sensitive skin cancer solution.