Dear Dr. Ostad: I am an African American Woman, is it true that I don’t have to wear sunscreen because my skin color protects me?
Thank you for your question. While it is true that those with darker skin do not have the same rate of skin cancer as those with fair-skin, you should have an awareness about a specific type of skin cancer that affects those with a darker complexion at a much higher rate.
Acral Lentingenous Melanoma is most commonly seen in dark-skinned individuals and typically affects areas that do not have pigment. Palms of the hands, soles of the feet and nail-beds are the most common location for this type of dangerous melanoma. They usually present as a somewhat large flat irregularly pigmented patch that is often disregarded. Lesions can have color variations and are not always dark brown or black, can appear red in color, are usually asymmetric and do not have defined borders. They usually appear as dark streaks under the nail that advance and grow in a linear line. While this is the most common type of skin cancer in darker skin types, it is important to protect yourself as there are other genetic factors and viruses such as HPV that can cause skin cancer.
Treatment of Acral Lentingenous Melanoma usually involves an excision or Mohs Surgery of the area affected along with a well-defined border of clear cancer free margins . Once this is achieved, no additional treatment is needed except for closely monitored full body skin checks every 3 months. If there is additional involvement and/or metastasis, lymph node removal, chemotherapy and radiation may be required.
It is important for everyone to get a skin check by a Board Certified Dermatologist. While fair-skinned individuals with blonde or red hair have a greater chance of developing skin cancer, there is still a risk for everyone, regardless of their skin color.
Sunscreen and repeat skin examinations leads to early detection and therefore care of the skin cancer.
Read additional information on skin cancer.