Dark Skinned Individuals and Skin Cancer Risk

OncoLink Team
Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: March 23, 2012

Brown skinned individuals, including black, Asian, Latino and Native Americans, often have a false sense of security when it comes to skin cancer risk, thinking they are not at risk because they do not "tan". While it is true that darker skinned individuals have a lower risk of skin cancer, they are not immune. They are also more likely to die of the disease than fair skinned individuals, due to later diagnosis and treatment. Bob Marley is one example of a well known, dark skinned person who died of melanoma.

Dark skin has a better ability to protect itself from the sun than light skin, but it too can become hyperpigmented and develop skin cancer. Experts say that this is particularly true after an outbreak of acne, eczema, or any other inflammatory process. Dermatologists advise darker-skinned patients to use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater every day. Having said this, melanomas in darker-skinned individuals actually tend to occur in areas that are not exposed to sun, such as buttocks, genitals, bottom of the feet, and under the fingernails or toenails. This is one reason these cancers may go undiagnosed- they don't appear in the typical skin cancer areas. A thorough skin check should be performed regularly and include all parts of the body (including scalp and other areas under hair, in between toes and fingers, nails, and soles and palms). This is something you can do yourself or with a partner. SkinCancerNet has a helpful guide to performing a skin exam.

Dr. Susan Taylor's website brownskin.net is a great resource for information about brown skin and the dangers of the sun.

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