Skin cancer does not discriminate.
While minorities with darker skin do have more melanin, making it harder to burn in the sun, they are not immune to skin cancer or sun damage.
Dr. Todd Schlesinger, a dermatologist at the Dermatology and Laser Center of Charleston, said minorities have to look for different signs of skin cancer than their fairer-skinned friends.
Where to look
The most vulnerable places for minorities are the hands, feet and nails. Schlesinger said an irregular dark spot on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet or a dark line down a fingernail is something that needs to be checked by a dermatologist.
“These things often get detected later because people don’t look there or think they can get it. It is usually found in a later stage,” Schlesinger said.
He said this type of skin cancer, called acral lentiginous melanoma, is not linked to sun exposure and occurs in people who are genetically predisposed. People with fair skin are just as likely to get this type of skin cancer, too.
Need a real life example?
Bob Marley. He died from this cancer under one of his toenails. He refused to have his toe amputated in 1977 when the cancer was discovered and died on May 11, 1981, at the age of 36.
Don’t forget sunscreen
Schlesinger said that while people with darker skin tones don’t typically get sun-related skin cancer, that doesn’t mean they are not affected by sun damage and aging from the sun. He advises everyone to apply a golf ball-size amount of 30 SPF sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure and protect their skin with adequate clothing.
I have to admit that when I spent three days straight on Ocean Isle Beach with a college friend a few weeks ago, I learned my lesson. My friend, Emily, has very fair skin and it doesn’t help that she lives in “Min-e-snow-ta.”
“I’m glad I don’t have to go through that,” I told her after waiting 15 minutes for her to make sure every inch of her skin was lathered with sunscreen. I hastily put on some SPF 15 and didn’t make an effort to reapply.
But alas, after coming home I noticed a strange sensation on my nose and shoulders and the weeklong peeling commenced.
What to look for
“The basic point is you can’t ignore it because you have darker skin,” Schlesinger said.
The fact is, minorities DO have to go through that, especially since we live on the coast and may spend a lot of time outdoors.
Some symptoms to watch for: a change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain; a change in the size or color of a mole, growth, or spot, or a new growth and the spread of color beyond a mole’s border.
Rest in peace Bob Marley, and don’t wait to contact a dermatologist as soon as you notice any of these signs.
Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.