What Is Melanoma?
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, affecting 100,350 adults annually. Of all racial groups, non-Hispanic Black people had the lowest rates of melanoma diagnoses, but they were also the most likely to be diagnosed at a later stage, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Dr. Anna Pavlick explains how sun exposure is linked to melanoma in all skin types.
Melanomas can also appear in places that were never directly exposed to the sun. These are known as acral melanomas, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation and can turn up on the bottoms of your feet, toenails, lower legs, groin, and buttocks.
Sunscreen is a necessary cancer-prevention step for people of all skin colors.
“Growing up, I learned that middle-aged, fair-skinned Caucasian women were at high risk for skin cancer,” says Smith who says her melanoma showed up as a lump in her groin area. She was fortunate to see Dr. Vernon K. Sondak, Chair of the Department of Cutaneous Oncology at Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa and a melanoma specialist, who urged her to join a clinical trial.
Now cancer-free for 10 years, Smith encourages others facing cancer to participate in clinical trials: “Racial and ethnic minorities don’t participate as much,” she tells the Melanoma Research Alliance, adding, “clinical trials may be their chance to living a better, longer, and improved quality of life.”
Sun Protection For People of Color
“The sun does not discriminate,” says Ketonya Breaux, founder of UnSun, a line of mineral sunscreen that is tinted to suit a range of darker skin tones. “It’s been ingrained in us that the sun does not impact us,” Breaux told the LA Times. “We also suffer more from hyperpigmentation and premature aging … it affects us all in ways that are not good.”
Shontay Lundy founded Black Girl Sunscreen out of necessity: “I was hiking so much, and friends would offer me sunscreen. But it wasn’t made for me,” says Lundy, who found mineral-based suncreens left a white residue on her skin. She founded her line of sun-protection products, which now includes Black Girl Sunscreen Kids, in 2016.
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“Look at my face, this is the #1 reason why women of color aren’t wearing sunscreen. #2 reason is because we think our melanin serves as a shield against the sun and we don’t need to wear sunscreen. Well, our skin burns, ages, and is susceptible to melanoma. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, did you know that? More importantly, are you doing anything about it?” [email protected]_lundy
“I went online to try to find sunscreen for darker skin and came up short,” she told the LA Times. “Clearly no one is talking to me. There has to be another me out there.”
Tennis champion Venus Williams also has her own sun-protection line, EleVen by Venus Williams. “My entire life has been spent outside, and there were definitely times early on that I wasn’t prioritizing skin protection as much as I should have,” Williams says, adding that her product is “definitely a year-round staple; the sun doesn’t only shine in the summer.”
Skin Cancer: What To Look For
People of African, Asian, Latino, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Native American descent should look for these signs of skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology:
- Dark spot, growth, or darker patch of skin that is growing, bleeding, or changing in any way
- Sore that won’t heal — or heals and returns
- Sore that has a hard time healing, especially if the sore appears in a scar or on skin that was injured in the past
- Patch of skin that feels rough and dry
- Dark line underneath or around a fingernail or toenail
Quarantine Increases Melanoma Risk
Some skin cancer experts anticipate an increase in skin cancer diagnoses as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. How is this possible?
“When someone is sheltering at home, their skin is no longer used to the sun,” Dr. Mark Reeves, director of the Loma Linda University Cancer Center, told Loma Linda University Health. “Once they go outside for the first time, fall asleep at a park, fall asleep in their backyard, or are just outside too long, they end up getting a bad sunburn due to intense sun exposure. I have seen this time and time again, and this type of relationship with the sun can lead to melanoma.”
The lesson: Use extra caution when venturing back into the sun, wear sunscreen, and re-apply often, whatever your skin color.