With summer in full swing, dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology are reminding everyone that people of all races and colors can develop skin cancer. Although people of color have a lower risk of developing skin cancer than Caucasians, when skin cancer develops in people of color, it is often diagnosed at a more advanced stage – making it more difficult to treat. The good news, say dermatologists, is that there is a lot people can do to protect their skin and reduce their risk of getting skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form.
“People of color often believe that they’re protected from the sun because they have darker skin tones and are less likely to burn,” said board-certified dermatologist Hassan Galadari, MD, FAAD, who maintains a private practice in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “However, due in part to this belief, the five-year melanoma survival rate for African-Americans and Latinos is lower than for Caucasians. 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 skin and reduce your risk of skin cancer, Dr. Galadari recommends that everyone:
- Seek shade whenever possible. Remember that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. A good rule of thumb is if your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
- Wear sun-protective clothing. This includes a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt and pants, as well as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection. To identify sun-protective garments, look for an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) label.
- Wear sunscreen when outdoors. Use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Generously apply it to all exposed areas of the skin – including your scalp, ears, neck and lips – about 15 minutes before going outdoors. Remember to reapply your sunscreen every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.
- Use extra caution near water, snow and sand, as they reflect the sun’s damaging UV rays, which can increase your risk of sunburn. You can still get a sunburn even if you’re in the water and feeling cool, since UV rays can reach below the water’s surface.
“In addition to preventing skin cancer, it’s important for people of color to regularly examine their skin in order to detect skin cancer early, when it’s most treatable,” said Dr. Galadari. “When skin cancer is diagnosed in people of color, it is often found in areas of the skin that are not typically exposed to the sun. In fact, the bottom of the foot is where 30 to 40 percent of melanomas are diagnosed in people of color.”
To increase people’s chances of spotting skin cancer early, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone learn the ABCDE rule, which outlines the warning signs of melanoma:
- A is for Asymmetry: One half of the spot is unlike the other half.
- B is for Border: The spot has an irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.
- C is for Color: The spot has varying colors from one area to the next, such as shades of tan, brown or black or areas of white, red or blue.
- D is for Diameter: While melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters (or about the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, they can be smaller.
- E is for Evolving – a mole or spot on your skin that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color. Even if you don’t notice any other symptoms, see a board-certified dermatologist if you notice an existing mole start to evolve or change in any way.
Dr. Galadari also notes that new spots or moles that itch, bleed or change color are often early warning signs of skin cancer. Keeping the ABCDE rule in mind, he recommends that people of color check their skin regularly, paying particular attention to the inside of their mouth, the palms of their hands and fingernails, groin, buttocks, and the soles of their feet and toenails. He also says it’s a good idea to ask a partner to help with a skin examination, as another set of eyes can be helpful for checking the back and other hard-to-see areas.
“Skin cancer can look and develop differently in individuals with skin of color than it does in individuals with lighter skin tones,” said Dr. Galadari. “That’s why it’s so important for people to check their skin regularly and make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist if they see anything unusual.”
These tips are demonstrated in “Skin of Color: How to Prevent and Detect Skin Cancer,” a video posted to the AAD website and YouTube channel. This video is part of the AAD’s “Video of the Month” series, which offers tips people can use to properly care for their skin, hair and nails. A new video in the series posts to the AAD website and YouTube channel each month.