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Understand Your Skin Cancer Risk

Yes, black folks can get skin cancer

This year nearly 77,000 people in this country will be diagnosed with melanoma, a form of skin cancer that can be deadly if not detected early. Many people believe skin cancer only happens to fair-skinned people, but here’s the truth: Melanoma strikes people of all ethnicities. It is the number one cancer in people aged 25 to 29, and the fastest growing cancer in men and the second fastest in women.
Here’s what else you should know about melanoma:
Protecting skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays significantly reduces the risk of melanoma and other types of skin cancer. Recognizing early signs of the disease can lead to a 95 percent cure rate. Though summer is approaching, you can contract skin cancer any time of year, so here are some skin-protecting tips:
Know your risk. One bad sunburn, even in childhood, is enough to increase a person’s lifelong risk for melanoma substantially. Other risks include frequent sunbathing, indoor tanning and a family history of melanoma. If you are fair-skinned with red or blond hair and light-colored eyes, you are also at higher risk.
Give your skin a thorough once-over. Perform monthly self-exams from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet; this is an effective way to detect early warning signs of melanoma. Practice the ABCDE rule to detect changes in your moles: A is for asymmetry, B is for border, C is for color, D is for diameter and E is for evolving. If you think a mole looks suspicious or has changed shape or color, talk to your physician right away.
Don’t assume darker skin equals immunity. One survey showed 46 percent of people believe those with darker skin cannot get skin cancer. This is frightening because although melanoma is less common in darker-skinned people, the risk of late diagnosis with advanced melanoma is higher, and survival rates are lower. The five-year melanoma survival rate for African Americans is only 77 percent; it is 91 percent for white folks. (Note: Reggae great Bob Marley died from melanoma.)
Use sunscreen. Every day. All year long. Period. Dermatologists recommend using the equivalent of a shot glass full of sunscreen for each application. Reapply it every two hours, especially after swimming, working out or during peak UV rays hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Choose a sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection that blocks UVA and UVB radiation with an SPF of 30 or higher. Though summer is peak time for sun exposure, snow, like water, can intensify UV rays.


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