It’s Melanoma Monday, but for a lot of people of color it’s a day that doesn’t ring many alarm bells. That’s because melanoma isn’t usually associated with a number of minority communities.
But medical experts say it should be alarming because melanoma is killing people of color.
What You Need To Know
- Despite misconceptions, doctors say people of color can get skin cancer
- Cases are often diagnosed late
- 🔻 Tips for staying safe in the sun 🔻
Something as simple as soaking up the sun on the beach is exactly what Jacqueline Smith thought was harmless.
“I was no different from anyone else. I grew up in New Jersey, I played outside. My birthday is in August, and we would go to the beach. But I wasn’t a sun worshiper,” she said.
Smith didn’t worship the sun, but like a lot of people in the black community, she didn’t fear it either. That is until she noticed a lump on her bikini line.
“I knew something wasn’t right because it was slow growing — it was firm, it didn’t hurt, but I just didn’t understand what was going on,” she recalled.
After several doctors ruled out anything serious, one doctor took a closer look with a biopsy.
“He said ‘Jackie, we found melanoma cells.’ And I had heard of melanoma, and I said, ‘Isn’t that the deadly form of skin cancer? And my first thought was, I’m not a fair skinned, middle-aged Caucasian woman. Because that’s what I had always heard growing up,” Smith said.
Dr. Vernon Sondak says he hears that same misconception about Melanoma all the time from people of color. He’s the chair of the Cutaneous Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer center, and he’s quick to point out why that kind of thinking is so dangerous.
“Even though melanoma is still uncommon in African Americans, the gap, the death rate difference between Caucasians/whites and Blacks in this country is bigger than any other form of cancer,” Sondak explained.
He said the reason is because of late diagnosis and missed signs like spotting areas of the skin changing, sores that aren’t healing or discoloration under your fingernails or toenails that won’t go away or grow out and spread.
“The darker your pigmentation, the more likely your skin cancer — if you get it — will be in some place that relatively un-pigmented. The soles of your feet or the palms of your hands or under your nails,” he said.
Dr. Sondak said while African Americans have more protection from the sun because of their melanin, it doesn’t make them immune to skin cancers like melanoma. It’s the form of cancer that killed legendary reggae star Bob Marley.
So, how can you protect yourself?
- Avoid the sun when it’s strongest from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
- Wear sunscreen to protect your skin from exposure.
- Wear a hat