Beware of Sun – Over Exposure Increases Skin Cancer Risks for African-Americans

Story by: Darwin Campbell, African-AmericanNews&Issues

HOUSTON-As the summer heats up, Many African-Americans will spend more time outside, grilling, playing outdoor sports, doing yard work – enjoying the sunshine.

However,  there may be risk for something much more serious than a tan. African-Americans need to be aware that skin cancer is a very real possibility if they are not careful practicing sun safety habits.

“Skin cancer is the most common cancer, but it’s also highly preventable,” said Susan Chon, M.D., assistant professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Dermatology and coordinator for the citywide screening event. “Everyone should remember to wear sunscreen daily and avoid the mid-day sun – especially in Texas.”

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center will offer free skin cancer screening exams to the public on Saturday, May 10 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Cancer Prevention Center at the Duncan Building. The building is located on the MD Anderson campus within the Texas Medical Center at 1155 Pressler Street, Floor 2. Free parking is available.


Most skin cancers are basal and squamous cell cancers, which are the easiest skin cancers to treat. But, a growing number are melanoma, a less common and more aggressive type of skin cancer. Since 1950, new melanoma cases in the United States have increased by 600 percent.

Cases of melanoma and deaths from this most lethal of skin cancers are on the rise, continuing an ominous trend that began more than 50 years ago.

Melanoma is a cancer that MD Anderson is initially targeting as part of its Moon Shots Program, which seeks to dramatically reduce cancer deaths.

Unfortunately, African Americans are often diagnosed at an advanced stage, when there is less chance for a cure.

Statistics from various parts of the United States indicate that survival rates for African American patients diagnosed with melanoma are lower than those of white patients, according to the Cancer Institute.

For example, the California cancer registry reported a five-year survival rate of 70% for African American melanoma patients, as compared to 87% for white patients. Similarly, at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC, the five-year survival rate for African American patients was 59%, compared to 85% in whites.

The lower survival rate in African Americans was due largely to the fact that they tended to have more advanced disease – particularly disease that had spread to other parts of their bodies – when they were diagnosed with melanoma. When melanoma has spread to other parts of the body, it is highly lethal.


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. Other sites at which melanomas occur relatively often in African Americans are the mucous membranes of the mouth, nasal passages, and genitals.

There are several types of skin cancer. The two most common types are non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer) and melanoma.

Basal cell skin cancer grows slowly. It usually occurs on areas of the skin that have been in the sun, and it is most common on the face. Basal cell cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body. Squamous cell skin cancer also occurs on parts of the skin that have been in the sun, but it also may be in places that are not in the sun.

Squamous cell cancer sometimes spreads to lymph nodes and organs inside the body. Melanoma occurs much less frequently than basal cell and squamous cell cancer, but it is the most serious and deadly form of skin cancer.

Among African Americans, squamous cell cancer is the most common form of skin cancer. Although squamous cell cancer is generally curable, it may be more serious when it occurs in African Americans than when it appears in whites.

Melanoma is much less common in African Americans than in whites, but when it does occur in African Americans it is particularly deadly.

This disease usually begins as an abnormal mole. In whites, melanomas often develop on the trunk and legs, but in African Americans, melanomas are most often found under the nails, on the palms of hands, and on the soles of the feet.

African Americans should develop an awareness of the moles on their bodies and be alert for new or changing moles.

In addition, African Americans should examine their fingernails and toenails for suspicious changes, which may include brown or black colored stripes under the nail or a spot that extends beyond the edge of the nail.

If you notice such changes, see a doctor promptly because they may be signs of melanoma. Melanoma that is detected and treated early can usually be cured, she said.

“Along with skin exams, practice awareness,” Chon said. “Pay attention to your body so you’ll notice changes and report them to your doctor without delay.”


The free screening will include a full-body exam, but participants are not required to undergo the complete exam if it is not desired. Each participant will receive a copy of his or her screening results.

Physicians in the Houston Dermatological Society will perform the screenings. The American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Dermatology and Houston Dermatological Society are co-sponsoring the event.

For a list of additional free skin cancer screening locations, visit the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Cancer Society sites.

Appointments are not available for these free screenings and exams are offered on a first come, first served basis. Participants who may need follow-up care will be referred to a list of local dermatologists.

Along with offering a wide range of screening and early detection services, MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center offers personalized risk-reduction strategies and prevention programs.

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