May is Melanoma Awareness Month, and it is important to be aware of any detection and prevention measures that you can take to remain healthy—no matter your skin tone. People who have dark skin tones often believe they’re not at risk for skin cancer, but that is a dangerous misconception, says dermatologist Maritza I. Perez, M.D., a senior vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers and accounts for more than 5.4 million cases in the United States. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and kills approximately 10,130 people in the United States each year. Melanoma is caused mainly by intense, occasional ultra violet (UV) exposure that frequently leads to sunburn, especially in those who are genetically predisposed to the disease. It often resembles moles and some develop from moles, and they are usually a black or brown color.
Dangerous skin cancers such as the fast-moving acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM) and a spreading form of squamous cell carcinoma are more common among darker-skinned people. Therefore, while skin cancer is much more common among lighter-skinned people, it tends to be more deadly among people of color.
How can I detect melanoma or skin cancer?
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that people of all ethnicities perform a monthly skin self-exam, looking for lesions that bleed, ooze or crust, don’t heal, or last longer than a month; these may indicate basal cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinomas may appear as non-healing ulcers, growths and sores next to scars or areas of previous physical trauma/inflammation, particularly if they appear on the legs. New or existing moles (brown, pink, black, red or flesh-colored spots) that are asymmetric, have an irregular border, change in color, are larger than a pencil eraser, or change in any way, may indicate melanoma. The most important thing is if you notice anything suspicious or abnormal, see a doctor right away.
What steps can I take to prevent skin cancer?
- When you’re enjoying the warm weather in Chicago, whether at North Avenue or 63rd Street Beach, seek the shade, particularly between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
- Avoid getting any sunburn. No matter what your skin tone is, you can get burned.
- Use sunscreen every day and wear protective clothing, hats and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Apply sunscreen to your body at least 30 minutes before going outside. Make sure to reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating excessively.
- Keep newborn babies out of the sun.
- Visit your physician every year for a professional skin exam.
If you have questions about melanoma or skin cancer prevention or diagnosis, schedule an appointment with your care provider today. ACCESS has locations near you and our team of health care professionals is ready to help you learn more.