Dark-Skinned Still at Risk of Sun-Caused Skin Cancer; among African-Americans and Hispanics, Late Detection Can Result in More Deaths

By Mickens, Tiffani N. | The Florida Times Union, June 18, 2014 | Go to article overview

Dark-Skinned Still at Risk of Sun-Caused Skin Cancer; among African-Americans and Hispanics, Late Detection Can Result in More Deaths


Mickens, Tiffani N., The Florida Times Union


Byline: Tiffani N. Mickens

We all have melanin, which gives our skin pigmentation. But some of us - because of genetics and ethnicity - have more than others.

In the past, it was believed the more melanin a person had, the less likely he or she was to develop skin cancer. We've learned this is false.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, all types of skin cancers are increasing among people of color in the U.S., including African-Americans and Hispanics. In people of color, basal cell carcinoma is the most common of the skin cancers, and leads to more deaths because of late detection.

We have also learned that people with darker complexions develop skin cancers in the least sun-exposed areas, such as the soles of their feet, palms, toenails and fingernails, and around the mouth. Cancerous moles, freckles, lesions and sores present very differently in darker-pigmented skin. They may be red, purple or black in color. They may change in size quickly or bleed easily.

We should all protect our skin daily by applying sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or more. People of color have a natural SPF of 13 from the melanin in their skin, so more protection may be required between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Prolonged Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB) ray exposure can lead to skin cancer. UVA rays tend to penetrate the skin more deeply - 50 times more than UVB rays. Prolonged exposure from UVA rays can cause dark patches, wrinkles and premature aging, while prolonged exposure from UVB rays can cause sunburns and eye disorders.

SPF is a determinant of how long it will take UVA and UVB rays to burn skin that is not protected by sunscreen, which can be as little as 20 minutes based on the amount of melanin in your skin. It is theorized that a SPF of 15 protects the skin 15 times longer, and that with it, it can take up to five hours for the sun to burn the skin.

When choosing the appropriate SPF, it is important to note that an SPF of 15 will protect a person from 93 percent of the sun's UVB rays, an SPF of 30 will protect a person from 97 percent of UVB rays, and an SPF of 50 will protect a person from 98 percent of UVB rays.

Let's look at a case recently discussed with JU instructors and students.

REGINA

A 23-year-old African-American female who visited the Dominican Republic for the first time with her friends, Regina was in awe of the mountainous island and its gorgeous beaches. Her group could not wait to walk the sandy beaches and Jet Ski. Regina remembered to pack her broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen lotion with SPF 50.

While on the beach, she and her friends decided to go on a banana boat, an inflatable watercraft. …

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