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The Facts on Cancer in Dark-Skinned People

Updated on January 25, 2017
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MsDora, former teacher and counselor, is fascinated by the study of healthy aging and loves to share the information she finds.

“Many people feel that because the melanin pigment in their skin protects them from sunburn and premature aging, that it will also protect them from skin cancer.” This is not true, according to Susan C. Taylor, M.D., internationally recognized expert in dermatology, trained at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard.1

Bob Marley, legendary reggae musician died at age 36.  Sadly, an aggressive form of melanoma under his toenail was originally dismissed as a mere soccer injury.   Photograph by Bruno Henrique Baruta Barreto from Brasil.
Bob Marley, legendary reggae musician died at age 36. Sadly, an aggressive form of melanoma under his toenail was originally dismissed as a mere soccer injury. Photograph by Bruno Henrique Baruta Barreto from Brasil. | Source

The Facts

In a 2010 interview with Essence Magazine, Dr. Taylor revealed or affirmed the following facts on dark-skinned people and cancer:

  • Hispanics and blacks receive little or no education from their doctors concerning the risks and prevention of the disease.
  • Black individuals have lesser risk than Whites for skin cancer, but they still have a potential risk, regardless of how dark their skin is.
  • Early signs of melanoma--the deadliest form of skin cancer-- in Blacks are missed because they show up in unusual places such as the palms and soles, fingernails and toenails and the inner surface of the mouth and genitals.
  • Dark-skinned people who develop skin cancer are more likely than Whites to die from the disease.
  • Mortality is higher for the Black population because the diagnosis is made at a later stage; physicians may not know how to diagnose skin cancer in Blacks.

Dr. Taylor encouraged that Blacks be educated through media and doctor’s offices. She also suggested monthly skin examinations (see below) and annual visits to the dermatologist to check for symptoms in the unusual places mentioned above.


The ABCDE Guide for Self-Check

A=ASYMMETRY: 1/2 of a mole or birthmark does not match the other 1/2
A=ASYMMETRY: 1/2 of a mole or birthmark does not match the other 1/2
B=BORDER: the edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred
B=BORDER: the edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred
C=COLOR: the color is not the same all over; may include shades of brown or black; may have patches of red, white or blue
C=COLOR: the color is not the same all over; may include shades of brown or black; may have patches of red, white or blue
D=DIAMETER: the spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about the size of a pencil eraser) or is growing larger
D=DIAMETER: the spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about the size of a pencil eraser) or is growing larger

Guide to Monthly Skin Examinations

“When melanoma develops in people whose untanned skin color is brown, it most often starts on the palm, soles of the feet and under the nails.” – American Cancer Society (ACS)2

The ACS has established the "ABCDE” guide to help individuals recognize the common melanoma symptoms.

They advise that any spots matching the descriptions of the moles3 in the ABCDE guide (to the right) should be reported to the physician.

The description of each mole is below the picture for A,B,C and D. E is a mole which shows any change in size, shape or color.

Procedure for Self-Check

The ACS advises the person doing a monthly personal examination to use the following procedure:

  • Stand in front of the mirror to check face, ears, neck, chest and belly, underarms.
  • Use hand mirrors to check the bottom of feet, calves, back of thighs, buttocks, genital area, lower and upper back, and back of neck.
  • Sit to check front of thighs, shins, tops of feet, in between toes and toenails.
  • Also check tops and palms of hands, in between fingers and fingernails.
  • Part hair and check scalp.


E=Evolving: This is the most common warning sign of skin cancer--any mole that changes color, shape or size.

Relevant Warnings for Dark-Skinned People

Family History Is Not a Safe Guide

Some think that if there is no family history of skin cancer, there is nothing to fear. Consider two facts:

  • Personal history (number of past sunburns and moles) is more significant than genetics.4
  • So many people now are bi-racial, even multi-racial? What are the skin colors and diagnoses in your family three generations back?

Black Skin Can Be Over Exposed

Some Blacks are comfortable hearing that melanin provides a sun protection factor (SPF) approximately equivalent to 13.4, compared to 3.4 in white skin. Still, black skin can be overexposed to sunlight.5 More than 5 sunburns and non-use of sunscreen can signal danger.6

Some Medications Make Skin Sensitive

Medications used for blood pressure or diabetes make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. People who use them need to use sunscreen outdoors: when gardening, for example.7

Other Risk Factors

Other reported risk factors for melanoma in minority populations include: albinism, burn scars, radiation therapy, trauma,and immunosuppression.8


Prevention Measures

Keep up with new information on the topic. In addition to the monthly personal checks and the annual dermatologist screening, here are some daily prevention tips.9, 10

  • Dark skinned people need sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) rating of 15 or higher.
  • The sun’s rays are strongest between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Stay in the shade when possible.
  • Darker colors and tightly woven fabric offer more skin protection than white T-shirts.
  • Water,snow and sand reflect the sun’s rays and increases the chances of sunburn. Be careful!


Types of Treatment

New patients who have not yet received treatment may participate in a clinical trial (part of the cancer research process) to determine whether a new treatment would be safer or more effective than a standard treatment. If not, they may receive one or more of these five standard treatments.11

Brief Descriptions of the Treatments

(1) Mohs Micrographic Surgery
(2) Radiation Therapy
(3) Chemotherapy
(4) Photodynamic Therapy
(5) Biological Therapy
Thin layers are removed until no more cancer cells are seen.
Radiation kills cancer cells or keep them from growing.
Drugs stop the growth of cancer cells by killing them or by stopping them from dividing.
A laser light shined onto the skin activates a drug which kills cancer cells.
Substances made by the body or lab boost the body’s defenses.

Conclusion

The US Census Bureau projects that by the year 2050, 50 percent of the US population will be comprised of Hispanics, Asians, and African Americans.12 Now, more than ever, it is important to raise awareness of skin cancer in people of color. Please spread the word!

Disclaimer:

Nothing contained in this article should be considered or used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

References

1. Schrijver, Cathy Chermol: Black Women Highest Mortality Risk from Skin Cancer; Essence (07/28/2010)

2. American Cancer Society: What You Should Know about Melanoma, (visited 06/04/2014)

3. Photo Credit: Pictures in the ABCDE Guide are uploaded on Wikimedia Commons by the Skin Cancer Foundation.

4 and 6. Dreisbch, Shaun: The 5 Skin Cancer Mistakes We All Make; Glamour, Condé Nast Publications, NY; (May 2014)

5, 8 and 12.Gohara, Mona MD Perez, Maritza MD: Skin Cancer and Skin of Color, Skin Cancer Foundation ((visited 06/04/2014)

7. Anderson, Jessica Cumberbatch: Skin Cancer In African Americans: Why You Shouldn't Ignore It, Huffing Post (06/01/2012)

9. Gordon, Ed: Skin Cancer Myths and the African-American Community, NPR (08/07/2006)

10. Fox Chase Cancer Center: Sun Safety Tips (06/09/2014)

11. Fox Chase Cancer Center: Skin Cancer Treatment (PDQ®) (02/07/2014)


© 2014 Dora Isaac Weithers

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    • word55 profile image

      Word 3 years ago from Chicago

      Oh, how this is very important information. I strive to live cancer free. Great research MsDora. Voted up!

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Word, I learned so much while wrting this article. We really ought to make people aware. Thank you for your comment.

    • word55 profile image

      Word 3 years ago from Chicago

      I just exposed this article to Twitter followers! :-)

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thank you for tweeting the article. I appreciate you.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Nice research, great facts, very interesting, and quite important information. Well done, Dora!

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks,Bill! I actually enjoyed the research, and hope that someone else benefits.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      That sun is for everyone to watch for sure (and tanning beds). I have had to be careful for many years because of medicine I take being more sensitive to the sun; not only the skin but also eyes. It would be harder to detect on a darker person so people really should know their own body and not pass off an unusual coloration for sure! ^+

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Jackie, thank you for sharing. Knowing your own body (including the sizes and shapes of those moles) is very helpful, for sure.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 3 years ago from london

      Very educational article on skin cancer and in creating an awareness of the dangers for people with dark skin. Loving thoughts.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thank you, Manatita. Some of this information is new to me, and I thought I'd pass it on.

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this information. Hopefully it will make more people aware of the disease and they'll learn what to look for so they can catch it early.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Sheila, thank you. We have the same hope. I already so much more aware.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Bravo my friend. Thank you for spreading an important word. Knowledge is so powerful thank you again for sharing yours.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Eric, thank you for reading. Yes, it is important to share.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I tweeted and Facebook shared such an import hub and i have learned so much more about this disease. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thank you, Devika. There is still so much for us to learn.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

      Hi MsDora, yes I can quite believe it, my sons best friend who he has known since he was three years old is black, and one year he went on holiday to Greece, when he came back he was really so much darker, and joked he had a suntan, I remember asking him if he had used tan lotion and he said no, why would he need it?! I told him that he could still burn even though he was darker skinned than my fair son, after that he did use it, but it never dawned on him, so this is really useful and I do hope it does bring awareness to darker skinned people, voted up and shared all the way, nell

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, Nell for sharing that story, and I'm glad you were aware, and that the young man took your advice. I once thought like he did; that's why I think this advice is worth sharing. Have a great weekend!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Good information, and very important. I worked with a man whose father and uncle both died of melanoma, and he had a spot detected himself.

    • sparkleyfinger profile image

      Lynsey Harte 3 years ago from Glasgow

      I was completely unaware that this was possible! I always remember when I was a little girl, I would ask my mum why dark skinned people had white palms/ nail beds. She told me these areas were protected from the sun, and that black people had special skin that darkened in the sun as their home countries were closer to the equator. It made sense to me then, and I was disappointed to learn that my skin would not darken in the sun (instead goes a lobster red). Anyway, back to the point- it totally makes sense as to why the melanoma would start in these areas... If they don't have regular sun exposure, then one bad spell of burning could damage the areas! Thanks for such an informative hub, and I will advocate the use of sunscreen for everyone!

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

      Msdora I know the research must have been detailed.. I dislike reading articles on cancer, but I must learn to do so because these articles do help bless you :)

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Flourish, thank you for weighing in. Sorry about the misfortune of your coworkers relatives. Hope he acts on the information we now have.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Sparkley, glad the article helped you make sense of the plight of dark-skinned people. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Frank, these topics are not on my list of favorites either. I thought that I should write this because other people might be as ignorant as I was until recently when I read a magazine article. Yes, it helps to know, and I'm gld you stopped by.

    • Camille Harris profile image

      Camille Harris 3 years ago from SF Bay Area

      Wow. I'm am SO happy I came across this Hub today, Ms. Dora. I'm dark skinned and have a dark streak on one of my nails that I just assumed was harmless. I wear sunscreen, but only on my face. I'll definitely try to step up my efforts.

      Thanks to your Hub, I'm going to do more research on melanoma and see my doctor soon. Thank you.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Camille, I'm happy that I wrote the article, and even happier that you are going to take action. Thanks for sharing.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

      What an excellent article that has the potential to save lives. We usually only hear about how light-skinned people are at risk for this deadly disease. Voted up and shared.

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Something everyone should no about and this type of cancer can affect anyone. Great information, MsDora!

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Ologsinquito, I was surprised too with this information. Thank you for reading and sharing.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thank you, EP. I pray that those who need to, will read the article. It's the most we can do to help people be aware.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 3 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      MsDora, this is a very important article, meticulously researched and presented. Voted up all the way and sharing, everyone needs to read this.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, Jo. Pleased that you're helping me spread the word.

    • profile image

      ignugent17 3 years ago

      Very useful hub MsDora. I have brown skin and I am not worried when I exposed myself to the sun. Learning this information makes me aware the importance of using protection from the sun.

      Thanks and have a nice day!

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Ignugent, so glad you found the article useful. Thanks for your comment.

    • nighthag profile image

      K.A.E Grove 3 years ago from Australia

      skin cancer is the most common cause of all cancers here in Australia, and with many different types of skin tones, from very dark to light this is vital information for so many across the world. A great hub!

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Nighthag, thanks for weighing in. Yes, this matter concerns people in Australia and in all parts of the world. Please be careful.

    • profile image

      lovedoctor926 3 years ago

      Useful info& preventative measures. these moles look painful. you know I often wondered about this since I hardly see anyone with darker shades of skin apply sunscreen. I agree, one should always wear sunblock before and after swimming. the worst time to lay out is b/w 10-2pm and even 3pm. I tend to burn easily even when it's cloudy. ultraviolet rays are harsh esp down here in FL. good hub. txs 4 sharing

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      LoveDoc, thank you. People with dark skin were taught that they did not need sunscreen. That's why it is so important to spread the facts now.

    • rasta1 profile image

      Marvin Parke 3 years ago from Jamaica

      I know I needed sunscreen but I have never thought about skin cancer. I just used sunscreen to look younger.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Well, Rasta, your interest in your appearance pays off. Thanks for stopping by.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 2 years ago from the short journey

      So glad you posted this information. Pinning to Solve It: Health/Safety w/Tips.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, RTalloni for reading and pinning. I appreciate your support.

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