Skin Cancer and Dark Skin Tones

Historically, people with light skin have been at greatest risk for skin cancer. While that still remains true,  data shows that melanoma,  the most deadly form of skin cancer not only occurs in darker skin,  it is often discovered in the later stages and is fatal.

It’s perceived that darker skin “has more immunity” to skin cancer, and in some ways that is true.  According to the National Institutes of Health, people with white skin are approximately 70 times more likely to develop skin cancer than those with black skin. From a medical standpoint, it is complex how people end up with different shades of skin. But the key component is Melanin, which is produced in the epidermis layer of the skin.  Melanin absorbs damaging UV rays from the sun. Dark-skinned people have more Melanin than light-skinned people. But this doesn’t give people with darker tones a pass to stay in the sun unprotected. Even though a significantly lower percentage of Melanoma cases are discovered in the early stages of darker skinned people, than with Caucasians, I recommend sunscreen for ALL SHADES of skin.  Dark tones should use at least SPF 30 with UVA and UVB protection and contain photostable sunscreen agents. That means the product needs to remain stable and protect when exposed to light.  High quality sun protection can be purchased through my website.

Interestingly, while direct sunlight can be harmful, there are also benefits.  The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that Melanomas in African-Americans, Asians, Filipinos, Indonesians, and native Hawaiians most often occur on non-exposed skin with less pigment, (lighter areas) with up to 60-75 percent of tumors arising on the palms, soles, mucous membranes and nail regions.  This may be caused by a lack of Vitamin D, which is believed to fight cancer. It is produced naturally when skin is exposed to sunlight.  In darker shades, where larger amounts of Melanin are present, Vitamin D production is suppressed, so it takes significant time in the sun to generate it. Supplements can help overcome this deficiency, and you avoid putting yourself at risk to extended sun exposure.  Please review my previous blog on Vitamin D to learn about safe levels, as you can overdose on it. Overall, the Melanoma survival rate for African-Americans is only 77 percent, versus 91 percent for Caucasians. Click here to see what melanoma looks like.

Some other interesting facts regarding skin cancers in minority populations:

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common cancer in Caucasians, Hispanics, Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian populations. Click here to see BCC.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the most common skin cancer among African-Americans and Asian Indians. Click here to see SCC.
  • Squamous cell carcinomas in African-Americans tend to be more aggressive and are associated with a 20-40 percent risk of metastasis (spreading). Sounce: Skin Cancer

The best medicine is always prevention. Whether your skin color is light, medium or dark, anyone can get skin cancer. It’s important to be examined by a health professional on a routine basis, and also keep an eye out for any growths, lesions or changes to your skin with self-examination.






About Christine Brown, M.D.

Dr. Christine Brown operates a leading dermatology practice in Dallas, Texas. She understands the importance of good skin care and is committed to providing you with high-quality care in a pleasant and professional atmosphere. Services include clinical and cosmetic dermatology.
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