Did you know that everyone can suffer from sunburn regardless of skin color? Every race and ethnicity is at risk for skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Though skin cancer is more prevalent in Caucasians, African Americans can be diagnosed with the disease – and often it is at an advanced stage when there is less likelihood of a cure, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Although the number of African Americans affected by skin cancer is small compared to other ethnicities, it is important to know that taking the proper precautions may help prevent this disease.

Many African Americans believe that the melanin – the pigment that gives color to skin and hair – in their skin protects them from skin cancer.

The most common form of skin cancer among blacks is squamous cell cancer, which occurs on parts of the skin that have been in the sun, as well as in places on the body that may not be in direct sunlight. This type of cancer sometimes spreads to the lymph nodes and organs of the body.

People with darker-toned skin are also more susceptible to acral lentiginous melanoma, a type of melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer. This form of cancer in African Americans usually appears on areas of the skin with lighter pigmentation, such as the palms of the hand, soles of the feet and underneath fingernails and toenails. Musician Bob Marley died at the age of 36 of complications from acral lentiginous melanoma, which originated under his toenail and metastasized to other parts of his body.

Blacks and other minorities, including Hispanics and Asians, shouldn’t assume that they are at no risk of skin cancer. Everyone, regardless of their skin color, should regularly do full-body checks of their skin to look for any abnormalities. If you notice or feel something unusual, don’t ignore it. See a doctor.

With the summer in full swing and people spending plenty of time outdoors, it is important to practice sun safety. The National Cancer Institute recommends that you:

  • Seek shade whenever possible.
  • Avoid the strong midday sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Protect your skin and eyes from the sun.
  • Use sunscreen daily with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, and reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim and sunglasses that absorb UV rays.
  • Wear clothing that covers your skin to protect against the sun’s UV rays – and use extra caution near water and sand, which reflect UV rays.
  • Avoid tanning beds.

Jackson Health System provides a variety of dermatology services through clinics in the Ambulatory Care Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital. For more information or to make an appointment, call 305-585-4DOC or visit www.JacksonHealth.org.