What people with darker skin tones need to know about skin cancer
Skin cancer is a condition that affects people of all skin colours, including those with darker skin tones. Dr Rakesh Newaj, a dermatologist, elaborates further.
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Skin cancer is a significant health concern that affects people of all skin colours. While it’s commonly associated with people who have fair skin, it is crucial to recognise that people with darker skin tones are also susceptible to this condition.
Unfortunately, due to misconceptions and lack of awareness, skin cancer in people with darker skin tones often go unrecognised or is diagnosed at a late stage. Therefore, it’s essential for people with darker skin to understand the risks, prevention methods, and early detection techniques related to skin cancer.
Understanding the risk factors
Darker skin tones provide some natural defence against harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The higher levels of melanin pigment in darker skin tones act as a shield against the sun’s harmful rays, offering a certain level of protection. However, this doesn’t mean that those with darker skin tones are immune to skin cancers. People with darker skin tones can still develop skin malignancies, and when they do, it often presents unique challenges in terms of diagnosis and treatment.
Types of skin cancer
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that typically originates from pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. In people with darker skin tones, melanoma often appears in areas that aren’t frequently exposed to the sun, such as the soles of the feet, palms, or under the nails. It’s crucial to be aware of any unusual growths or colour changes in these areas. Usually they start as a dark irregular patch that grows and spreads locally at first. These skin cancers are very aggressive and need to be detected and treated early.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a type of skin cancer that usually develops in areas of the body that receive frequent sun exposure. While SCC is less common in people with darker skin tones, it can still occur. It often presents as a scaly, rough, or crusty bump that may bleed or become tender. SCC sometimes can also develop on old burn wounds or on areas chronically infected with viral warts (genitals). It has also been seen on people working with soot or who have had long-term exposure to chemicals.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer. It typically appears as a translucent, pearly bump or a pinkish patch on the skin. BCC is less common in people with darker skin tones but can still occur. Usually skin cancers like BCC and SCC are more commonly seen in darker toned people who suffer from genetic conditions like xeroderma pigmentosa and albinism, where their skin defence against ultraviolet rays is compromised.
Prevention is key when it comes to skin cancer, regardless of skin tone. Here are essential preventive measures people with darker skin tones should consider:
- Sun protection
- Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF regularly, even on cloudy days.
- Seek shade, particularly during the hours when the sun is at its peak.
- Wear protective clothing, including wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts, and sunglasses.
- Regularly examine your skin, including areas that aren’t usually exposed to the sun.
- Be vigilant about any changes in moles, growths, or skin discoloration.
- Consult a dermatologist if you notice any suspicious or evolving lesions.
Importance of early detection
Early detection significantly improves the prognosis of skin cancer. However, due to the misconception that people with darker skin tones are not at risk, skin cancer is often diagnosed at later stages in this population.
Take away message
Skin cancer is a condition that affects people of all skin colours, including those with darker skin. Understanding the risks, types, prevention strategies, and early detection methods associated with skin cancer is vital for everyone.
Fortunately, skin cancers are most often visible to the naked eye and therefore can be detected and cured early. However, due to the fact that they are less common in darker-skinned people, a higher level of suspicion needs to be employed and patients need to be referred to their dermatologists early, in case of doubt.
MEET THE EXPERT – Dr Rakesh Newaj
Dr Rakesh Newaj is a specialist dermatologist with special interest in skin surgeries. Since qualifying in 2010, he practises in Waterkloof, Benoni, Kempton Park as well as Mauritius. His special interest lies in skin cancers, hidradenitis suppurativa and stem cell and fat grafting.
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