Skin cancer has been a hot topic lately. Are Blacks at risk? How do you get it? What does skin cancer look like? Contrary to popular belief — that the high levels of melanin (a protective pigment) in our skin prevents us from getting cancer — that’s just not true. While skin cancers are mainly associated with ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds, and many people of color are less susceptible thanks to their UV blocking melanin, everyone (even African Americans) are at risk.
In fact, many Blacks are unaware of a skin cancer that primarily affects dark-skinned people —acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM), an aggressive cancer that disproportionately afflicts African Americans and other dark-skinned people.
Unfortunately, because Blacks often assume they’re immune to the “Caucasian disease,” their cancers tend to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage, meaning a bleaker outcome.
So, considering most adults have between 10 and 40 moles dotting their bodies, how can you tell a beauty mark from skin cancer?
Here’s what to look for…
- If it’s pink, flaky, located on the face, hands, or arms and appears to grow back rapidly, it could be Actinic Keratosis. According to dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD, 20% of these cases involving “precancers” are mistaken by patients as eczema reports Prevention.
- If it’s pink, shiny and typically on the head, neck, or ears, it could be Basal Cell Carcinoma. This is the most common skin cancer. Although it rarely spreads away from the origin of a tumor, growths on ears or lips can extend to the lymph nodes and lungs.
- If it’s red, flaky, raised; and develops on the head, neck, ears, lips, hands, or arms it could be Squamous Cell Carcinoma. These lesions look like sores. When found on the lips and ears they have a higher risk of metastasis, and in very rare cases, the cancer can be fatal.
Thanks to the many evolutions in sun protection, this can all be avoided if you take the necessary steps to protect yourself. So how do you prevent skin cancer?