Saturday, May 27, 2017

Misconception that skin color determines who will get skin cancer is dangerous, medical experts say

Melanoma is often found in hard to see places that
are never exposed to the sun.
The misconception that people with darker skin are protected from skin cancer is dangerous, says a Rush University Medical Center news release.

While skin cancer rates are higher among white people, blacks, Hispanics and Asians are also at risk of getting a melanoma, which is often caused by genetics and not sun exposure. Melanomas are the most common kind of skin cancer and also the deadliest.

Dr. Arthur Rhodes, the director of the Rush Melanoma Surveillance Clinic, explained in the release that only 10 to 15 percent of melanomas are caused by excessive sun exposure, typically in heavily freckled and sun-damaged skin.

“The misconception that the sun is responsible for all cases of melanoma leads to lower survival rates because of delayed diagnosis, particularly among people of color,” he said.

Sidney Brown, a black man whom Rhodes diagnosed and treated for a melanoma 10 years ago, was one of those people who didn't think African Americans got skin cancer.

Brown said he thought the mole on his nose was just an annoying pimple and never considered that it could be skin cancer, because, he thought, “skin cancer is something white people get.” This misconception nearly cost Brown his life.

Rhodes "explained that once a mole starts growing up, it is also spreading cancer cells down through the body. That can be too late for many, but catching mine in time saved my life,” Brown said in the release.

A 2016 American Academy of Dermatology study, “Racial Disparities in Melanoma Survival,” found that while melanoma incidence is higher in whites, death rates are relatively higher among people of color, says the release.

“Far too often, black, Hispanic, and Asian patients with melanoma cancer tell us they believed that melanoma was only a danger for sun-seeking whites,” says the report. “But anyone – regardless of skin color – may develop melanoma, in both sun-exposed and sun-protected sites. Not noticing or ignoring a new or changing mole in a sun-protected site can be fatal.”

"While less common than other types of skin cancer, melanomas are deadlier, because the malignant cells can spread even though the tumor is relatively small and not bleeding or causing pain or itching," the release says. "This capacity to metastasize underlies the importance of early detection, especially among people of color."

The release notes that some of the most aggressive forms of melanoma may occur in areas of the body that receive little or no sunlight and often occur in difficult-to-examine locations.

“Early diagnosis results in a cure, while delayed diagnosis may be deadly,” Rhodes warns. “Half of all melanomas in non-whites occur on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, nailbeds, mucous membranes, perianal area, genitalia, and other areas that are not exposed to the sun, areas that are difficult-to-self-examine and commonly ignored.”

Rhodes recommends that everyone should do a monthly full-body self-examination for the presence of new moles, or for any changes to existing moles, including size, shape or color.

Brown has become an advocate for counseling friends and family to pay closer attention to their skin.

"Dark-skinned people think it's nothing," Brown said. "A lot of times we get moles, and we don't think anything about it. Don't accept that it can't be something; go see what it is. Don't say 'Eh, (melanoma is) something that white people get.'"

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