May 26, 2018
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Skin Cancer Awareness Urged Among African-Americans

Skin Cancer Awareness Urged Among African-Americans

While African Americans may be less likely to develop skin cancer, they should not ignore the possibility completely. African Americans can develop skin cancer, and, when they do the outcome is often more serious than it is for other racial and ethnic groups. When cancer is detected among African Americans, it has often advanced to its most life-threatening stages. In fact, the overall melanoma survival rate is only 77 percent, versus 91 percent for Caucasians.

According to Valerie Callender, M.D. and member of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS), "Many patients of color associate skin cancer with tanning. Since they're not participating in these activities, skin cancer protection and prevention is not top-of-mind.”

Dr. Callender and the ASDS suggest patients of color watch for the most common forms of skin cancer:

-Basal Cell Carcinoma – This most common type of skin cancer is formed in the lower level of the skin and can erode skin and tissue.
o What to look for – Typically a dark bump on the skin which is often misdiagnosed as a pimple. Basal Cell Carcinoma is mostly found on sun exposed-areas of the skin, most common on the face and neck and can often be confused with benign hereditary spots.

-Squamous Cell Carcinoma – Cancer that is formed in the upper part of the skin that, when caught in its early stage, is unlikely to spread to surrounding tissue.
o What to look for – A bump with a hard crust or a skin-colored patch with raised edges which is often misdiagnosed as a scab. This particular cancer appears on sun-exposed areas of the skin including the lips, scalp and ears and can occur in existing scars.

-Melanoma – If not caught in its earliest stage, melanoma can easily spread to other parts of the skin and can be deadly.
o What to look for – A flat or raised spot with jagged outline on the skin which is multicolored or black. Melanoma can be found anywhere on the body -- both on sun-exposed areas and shielded areas of the skin. Among African Americans, melanomas occur mainly on body sites that are not pigmented, such as the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, and the skin beneath the nails.

Dr. Callender recommends following the ABC's of skin cancer screening when doing a self-check:

*Asymmetric: If you were to draw a line through a normal mole or freckle, it would have two symmetrical halves. In some cases of skin cancer, spots will not look the same on both sides.
*Border irregularity: If the mole's border is irregular, it is more likely to be cancerous.
*Color variation: Variation of color means different shades of browns, blues, reds, whites, and blacks around a mole – these are all signs to have the mole checked.
*Diameter greater than 6 millimeters: If the mole is larger than a pencil eraser (about 1/4 inch or 6mm), it needs to be examined by a dermatologic surgeon.
*Evolving: Any mole that is changing in size, shape, color or begins to itch should be examined by a dermatologist.

For more information about skin cancer, visit

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