Tuesday, July 26, 2011

People of Color and Skin Cancer

By the year 2050, the United States Census Bureau predicts that the population will be 50 percent Hispanic, Asian, or African American. That is why now, more than ever, we must raise awareness of the potential for life-threatening skin cancers in people of color.

It has for a long time been an urban myth that only Caucasians are susceptible to skin cancer. But this couldn’t be further from the truth! It is true that people of color are less likely to develop skin cancer due to the genetic makeup of their skin. But this also means that people of color who develop skin cancer are more likely to die from it due to delays in detection and difficulty seeing moles and spots on their skin.

The skin is made up of the epidermis, the dermis, and fat layers. In the outermost layer of the skin, the epidermis, cells called melanocytes are produced. It is these cells, melanocytes, which determine the amount of melanin or pigment in the skin. The more melanin that is present, the darker the skin will be.

It is melanin that helps defend our skin against the harmful effects from the sun which cause skin cancer. In many ways, it is your own personal SPF. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “in African American skin, melanin provides a sun protection factor approximately equivalent to 13.4, compared to 3.4 in white skin.”

There are several forms of skin cancer. The most common is basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and the second most common is squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). There are also other skin cancers, including melanoma. Just as there are various types of skin cancer, those who are affected by them vary too.

Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer among African Americans. When people of color are exposed to certain skin conditions that prevent complete healing, such as scarring, burn tissue, and ulcerations, there is not the same level of melanin as before. Therefore, the person has a higher likelihood of developing very aggressive skin cancer that can eventually spread to other places on the body and lead to death. As we said before, these are more likely due to late detection which can often mean it is too late for treatment.

No one is immune to skin cancer, be sure to check your skin regularly and visit your dermatologist at least once a week.

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