July is UV Safety Awareness Month and is named as such to educate people on the dangers of over exposure to sunlight while providing solutions during the time of year people are at the highest risk. Predictably summer is the season where we are exposed to the highest level of ultraviolet rays which coincides with our natural desire to be outside and enjoy the warm weather. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be outside to get some sun, but it is important to know the risk factors and the steps you can take to mitigate them.
One of the most common myths that persists in regards to the effects of UV rays is that People of Color do not have to be concerned about dealing with them. There is some evidence that supports this school of thinking including People of Color having increased levels of melanin, a pigment that naturally provides protection from UV light. The numbers also suggest that People of Color have lower odds of developing melanoma as according to the American Cancer Society, the lifetime risk of developing melanoma is 1 in 1,000 for Black Americans, 1 in 167 for Hispanic Americans and 1 in 38 for White Americans. Melanoma is the most lethal skin cancer and accounts for 5% of all cancer cases. Not only is melanoma deadly but while rates of other cancers have been declining, the number of melanoma cases have tripled over the past 30 years. While it is true People of Color are less commonly diagnosed with melanoma, in the cases where they are, it is 4 times more likely to be an advanced case and they are 1.5 times more likely to die from the disease.
This is incredibly troubling because when melanoma is detected early, the 5-year survival rate is 99%, but it becomes exceedingly more difficult to treat after it spreads throughout your body. So while People of Color are less likely to develop melanoma, when they do it is most often detected in a later stage and treatment options are severely reduced. In a study of 649 people it was detected that 32% of Black patients were diagnosed with Stage 3 or Stage 4 skin cancer in contrast to 13% of the White patients involved in the study. Factors that contribute to later detection of melanoma are that People of Color believe they are at lower risk to contract the disease and they are not alone it that perception. Doctors are even under the impression that their patients of color are at a lower risk of melanoma and overlook the fact that there are skin cancers that can develop in places on the body that are not exposed to sunlight. So lack of recognition by both individuals and medical professionals are contributing factors to the lack of early detection of melanoma in People of Color.
Not only is melanoma less likely to be detected early among People of Color, when it is detected, Black Americans are less likely to receive surgery to address the disease when compared to their Caucasian counterparts. Advanced stages of the disease along with a lower rate of surgery results in a lower mortality rate in those who contract melanoma. With this form of skin cancer being incredibly difficult to treat once it has developed, taking steps to prevent yourself from getting it in the first place is all the more important.
Ways to prevent yourself from having to face the horrors of skin cancer include regularly applying sunscreen and to perform regular self-examinations. It is important to search your body for possible signs of skin cancer and to know what you are looking for be sure to follow the ABCDE’s of melanoma.
- ASYMMETRICAL: If a mole or growth is uneven.
- BORDER: If a mole or growth has an irregular border.
- COLOR: If a mole or growth has multiple colors within it.
- DIAMETER: Is the mole or growth wider than the eraser of a pencil.
- EVOLVED: Has the mole or growth gotten bigger in size or thickness.
No matter the color of your skin, no one is impervious to UV rays and during the month of July please take the appropriate measures to protect yourself from the negatives of getting too much sun.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 617-427-100
*All statistics are provided by the Melanoma Research Alliance & The Skin Cancer Foundation.