Summer is here, and many are excited to shed layers to enjoy the warm weather while it lasts. However, the more exposed skin is to the sun’s rays, the higher the risks are damaging skin and possibly developing skin cancer, no matter how fair or deep the skin tone.
Caucasians have been the face of skin cancer as they have the highest risk, but anyone can fall victim to the uncontrollable division of skin cells if they’re not careful. People of color who develop skin cancer tend to be diagnosed when it is too late, especially because of the belief that darker skins are immune.
Bob Marley died after cancer had spread throughout his body following the discovery of a melanoma under a toenail. Melanoma is a type of cancer or tumor that starts off as a dark spot or area on the skin. It is rare, but deadly if not treated early.
This poor judgment of darker skins being able to skimp on sun protection is due to melanin being a good skin defender against the sun’s UV rays. Melanin is what gives skin its pigment, and is made by cells called melanocytes which are found in the layer of skin that can be seen by the naked eye.
One way of looking at how good a protector melanin can be is through some research on skin tones. African-American skin has approximately an SPF of 13.4, compared to the meager SPF 3.4 that white skin has. This does not get darker skin off the hook, especially with its proneness of having moles and how they can increase one’s chance of developing skin cancer.
Risk factors include smoking, getting older, being male and exposure to carcinogenic chemicals and compounds such as arsenic and tar. Children and adults that have undergone radiation treatment should treat their skin with extra care. Damaged skin from bad scarring and some skin infection treatments like those for psoriasis should be handled with adequate sun protection, too.
Other causes of being at risk for skin cancer are weakened immune systems, with people who have had organ transplants being one example. There has been some linkage to the human papillomavirus (HPV), as infection can cause warts that can turn malignant.
Genetics can play a role in how likely someone is to develop the cancer, as well as keeping one’s family history in mind. Some skin sensitivities are genetic, so if a person is predisposed to any disease it is a very good reason to take care to protect their skin as much as possible.
Common areas where skin cancer can be detected include the legs and arms. Moles have to be monitored, no matter where they occur on the body. Tanning is not a good idea, especially in fairer skins. That lovely glow that can occur is in fact damaged skin. Wrinkles and an increased skin cancer risk, anyone?
Everyone should use at least SPF 15 to 30 every day, even when it’s overcast and during the colder months. Examining one’s skin every month is also important, especially checking for changes in existing moles. Having a dermatologist carry out such an examination at least once a year can also help, as one can get to know their skin.
With climate change already taking shape, this summer is the best time to start caring about how much sun one’s skin is exposed to. Skin cancer, like all common cancers, does not discriminate, no matter where one’s skin falls on the melanin spectrum.
By Sibylla Chipaziwa