The Surprising Effects of Sun on Dark Skin

For too long, Blacks have believed skin cancer is unlikely due to melanin. Brown skin alone does not totally protect you. Although the incidence of skin cancer is less in Blacks than Whites, the mortality is greater due to its usual late diagnosis. Sun exposure is the most common etiology in all three of the most common types of skin cancer. Other precipitating causes are scars, burns, lupus, heredity and radiation treatments.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) and Malignant Melanoma (MM) are the most common types of skin cancer. Most cancers are found on sun-exposed areas.

Basal Cell Carcinomas appear as glistening papules on sun-exposed areas that may easily bleed and are more common in Hispanics, Chinese and Japanese. BCC spread to adjacent areas but are rarely found internally. SCC, on the other hand, may appear as nonhealing crusted lesions on sun-exposed areas and may spread internally. SCC is more common in Blacks. MM is the most severe type of skin cancer and occurs less frequently than other types of cancer. If there is a family history, survival rate is 50%. MM found in Blacks in the form of a black mole may appear under nails and on palms and the soles of feet. When diagnosed, they may have already spread, as in Bob Marley’s case.

To prevent skin cancer from prolonged sun exposure, apply sunblock of 30 SPF or higher daily. Wearing shades and protective clothing, including a hat and long sleeves, when outside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. is recommended. Avoid tanning beds.

I recommend each year “on your birthday to examine your birthday suit.” The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests monthly self-exams after previous cancer or family history. In addition, when a mole changes in size, color or shape, it should be examined and biopsied by your dermatologist.

For more information, call Dr. Gloria Campbell-D’Hue at 
Atlanta Center of Dermatology and Medispa at 404.349.7440 at 2950 Stone Hogan Conn. SW #4, Atlanta, GA 30331.