Skin Cancer: Not Only A White Person's Disease

Confession: As a woman of color (I'm half Latina), I have exempted myself from sunscreen on many occasions as a young adult. Alright, even that's a half-truth. I didn't used to wear sunscreen because I figured skin cancer just wasn't in my brown-skinned future.

Turns out, I'm not the only minority that has or continues to forego sunscreen. "People think they are naturally immune from skin cancer if they have a darker complexion," says Montclair, NJ, dermatologist Jeanine Downie, MD, co-author of Beautiful Skin of Color. Therefore many, especially African Americans, assume they don't have to apply sunscreen or get checked by a board certified dermatologist regularly, she says.

"I tell people, 'If you have skin, you can have skin cancer,'" says Dr. Downie. The truth is, the darker the skin you have, the more likely you are to die from melanoma. "The overall melanoma survival rate for African Americans is only 77 percent, versus 91 percent for Caucasians," according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. So why are those with darker complexions more likely to die from melanoma than Caucasians? It's under-diagnosed, and found in the later stages of the cancer, when the malignancies are more advanced, as African Americans tend to not get screened as frequently as Caucasians, says Dr. Downie.

So what are the best skin cancer prevention practices for darker complexions? The same as everyone else:

- Always wear SPF 30 and above, reapplying throughout the day if in the sun
- Have an annual examination and screening by a board certified Dermatologist (if there is no history of skin cancer in the family)
- Get plenty of Vitamin D in your diet with supplements, yogurt, salmon and the like.

Related links:
Confirmed: Tanning Beds Increase Cancer Risk
New Melanoma Treatment Sparks Hope
Supermodel Skincare Scandal: Gisele Says Sunscreen is 'Poison'