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?
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