Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Skin cancer... A risk for all skin types
I admit it. I have never worn sunscreen. Ever! The truth is, like many other people of color, I just didn't think I needed to.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says messages regarding skin cancer protection have traditionally targeted fairer-skinned people because this group is 10 times more likely to develop melanoma, the most lethal type of skin cancer. Perhaps as a result, many minorities, myself included, consider skin protection a non-issue. And an informal poll of my African-American family and friends found NONE of them actively wears sun protection during the summer.

The truth is, skin protection IS an issue for this group... especially since new research finds darker-skinned people who develop melanoma are more likely to die from the condition. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1 million skin cancers are diagnosed in the United States each year. And although black people are less likely to develop skin conditions, they are three times more likely to die than Caucasians. Lack of protection, combined with late detection, often leads to higher death rates for black people, as well as for Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans.

Part of the misperception has to do with melanin, the pigment that gives skin and hair their natural color. I have always had the idea that because I have lots of melanin, I am at not at risk. Not true! Although pigmentation helps block the suns damaging UV rays, acting as a natural layer of protection, it does so only to an extent. Dermatologists are now seeing people from various ethnic groups coming in for skin checks because of a rise in skin cancer overall. And darker-skinned patients, if they are getting enough sun exposure, are equally at risk.

The moral of the story is that no one is exempt. The CDC recommends a sunscreen with a sun protection factor or SPF of at least 15 for everyone. And because skin tones are as diverse as the rainbow, it's important to check with your dermatologist to find out what more is needed to protect your skin type.

Summer officially starts June 21. Do you have the proper sun-protective resources for your skin? Do you consider yourself at risk for skin cancer?
Hello Sabriya,
Very interesting blog. I have blonde hair, green eyes and fair skin. Although, I must have lots of pigment because I can get very tan. BUT I don't want to get very tan!
I spend a lot of time outdoors and I wear SPF 50 but in this intense Texas sun, I still get a dumb "farmer's tan".
Even though I wear the highest sunblock, I worry that the tan is harming my skin.
My Grandmother, who lived to be 112, was blonde and blue~eyed. She spent a lot of time in the sun but she wore a hat, long sleeves, gloves, and pants! Whew! That is too hot for me!
I guess I will continue to use the SPF 50 and hope it is working.
Thanks for the information!
You are right! We are all at risk for developing skin cancer if we opt not to use sunscreen. Yet, regardless of the amount of melanin in the skin, one thing is for certain: UV radiation (non-visible portion of sunlight) has enough energy to break the chemical bonds of any molecule, even DNA. Breaking these bonds can cause skin cells to mutate, and replicate into cancerous cells. Sunscreen scatters the sun's rays and prevents this from happening. I hope by understanding this, everyone opts to use sunscreen in the future, because we all have skin cells, and we all need sunlight!
Does sunscreen block cancer causing rays? Many experts suggest that we should all wear sunscreen but seem to always stop short of saying it will stop skin cancer, most say "could". Isn't the better plan to only stay in the sun moderately instead of relying on sunscreen that may or may not have the effect of saving you from getting skin cancer yet definitely gives one a false sense of security that the experts don't seem to want to dissuade, causing one to stay in the sun longer and thereby inceasing the chances that one gets skin cancer?
I just ran into my childhood friend the artist, Jeff Reid sitting in the noonday sun on State & Van Buren in Chicago. Next to him was a giant portrait of Mayor Harold Washington that he had painted. His face was covered in sweat so I gave him the last half of my bottle of water. I wanted to say to him, Man you need to get out of the sun even with your dark skin...
Sunscreen does block (or scatter) cancer causing rays. The issue here then, is the SPF (or Sun Protection Factor). Sunscreen is made of oxybenzone/titanium dioxide derivatives which absorb UV (UVA and UVB) radiation. However good this sounds, the rating which the sunscreen is given, i.e. SPF 15, 20, 45, etc, is a relative measure of how long the sunscreen can withstand UV radiation; because eventually, these chemicals too, will breakdown by exposure to UV rays. So yes, if you spend more time in the sun, even with sunscreen on, you are still capable of developing skin cancer.
Do'nt know about Skin Cancer,but SUN BURNT--has happened couple of times--very painful with peeling later on.
Problem I have is Spots that change pigmentation--Ok after 5/6 months after returning from Florida's beaches.I use SPF 45.But this gets washed away when you go into ocean.
Too much exposure to the sun exposes us to sunburn and skin disorders but too little of it exposes us to osteoporosis and certain cancers. The right amount prevents many diseases. This supports the theory that primordial man lived in an environment - a canopy of tall tress – where we are exposed to limited amount of sunlight.
I am thrilled to read another spot on skin cancer. I lost a close girlfriend last fall to melanoma...she would have been 34 this past Sunday.
Sun protection is critical. That includes: sun screen, applied appropriately, each day of the year; sunglasses, each day of the year...yes, eyes can get melanoma; sun protective accessories.
The truth is, science cannot pinpoint "the cause" of skin cancer. At this point, we can all be diligent by using appropriate measures to protect ourselves and our children from harmful rays.
I also encourage everyone to have a yearly well-skin check...early detection is a key component to skin health. It only takes a few minutes by a qualified dermatologist. If you have a skin concern, don't hesitate to see a dermatologist...only they are trained to spot what is a potential concern. Not all melanoma skin cancers present themselves as large, dark, irregular shaped, and bleeding. And some innocent skin growths present themselves melanoma like. Again, early detection for any type of skin cancer is critical.
Please pass the information to others. And please remember the sun is not an enemy. For whatever complicated reasons, we live in a time when rays can endanger our skin. However, we can take take safety measures and enjoy life-sustaining light.
Although rare, melanoma can occur on non sun-exposed skin. Unusual pigmentation on soles of feet, palms of hands, nail beds, inside mouth, … should also be checked by a dermatologist. This is the most common type of melanoma in darker skinned people. Melanoma is the leading cause of cancer related death in women aged 24-29. ..Teens and young adults need to stay out of tanning beds. No tan is healthy.

I wear upf rated long sleeve shirts, long pants, and a wide brimmed hat when outside for extended periods. I use a broad-spectrum sun block (containing zinc oxide, protects against more of UV spectrum including higher energy UVA rays) with an spf above 30 on exposed skin. Sunglasses are also important!
Wow very informative I’ve never really understood why we should wear sun screen. Now it's clear
Science has pinpointed a cause of skin cancer (which is UV radiation and the breaking of DNA chemical bonds), but we forget that this isn't the sole cause of skin cancer. Genetics plays a serious role in the development of skin cancer and cancers in general, which is why they say science can't pinpoint a SINGLE cause.
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