Skip to main content
Skip to main content

WKU News

Dark skin needs protection from sun, too

A few years ago, I had an African-American woman in her early 30s come to see me for a rash on her legs. I looked at her feet and saw an irregular, jet-black mole on her heel. I was immediately concerned and asked how long this mole had been there. She casually told me "a few years" and was unaware that this could be a serious health problem. It probably didn't even cross her mind -- in contrast to my white patients who are always extremely concerned about new moles. I sent her to a surgeon to have it removed.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. We caught this potentially dangerous mole early. It was categorized as a "severely dysplastic nevus," which simply means it had some atypical changes but not enough to be a melanoma. However, both the surgeon and I believed that if a few more years or even months had passed, my young patient had a good chance of developing a melanoma.

The common misperception that naturally bronzed skin is immune to the threat of skin cancer is a dangerous one.

Within the U.S., minorities are less likely to be checked, diagnosed and treated for skin cancer in its early detection stages. Because of this, those with darker complexion have a greater risk of dying from skin cancer than their light-skinned counterparts. I cannot stress this enough. Skin cancer is not just a white person's disease.

We perpetuate this urban legend within our growing communities of color by assuming that our dark skin does not need SPF protection, that our dark skin does not need to be checked and that we can cheat skin cancer-related deaths. However, this false assumption has become a silent killer with deadly consequences.

Can people with dark skin get skin cancer? Well, yes.

As a dermatologist, I always remind my patients that Bob Marley died of metastatic melanoma so that they remember that anyone is susceptible. Skin cancer can occur in any skin type and color. However, education is the key to catching skin cancer early so, as the summer gets into full swing here is a quick skin cancer 101:

There are three types of skin cancer:

-- Basal cell carcinoma, which is the least common in African American skin.

-- Squamous cell carcinoma, which can look like a rough, thick, scaly bump, is more common than basal cell carcinoma within darker skin tones and is most frequently found on the legs.

-- Melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and occurs in all skin types. It looks like a dark mole that is irregular in color or shape. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body, but in darker skinned people it is most commonly found on the hands and feet.

Melanoma can be cured if caught early, but in later stages it is very serious and difficult to treat. Unfortunately, due to the lack of screening, patients with skin of color often are diagnosed with advanced stage melanoma. In one study, investigators found that, of patients with melanoma, 18% of Hispanics and 26% of African Americans presented with advanced stage melanoma. This is compared to only 12% of white patients.

This delay in melanoma detection also contributes to lower melanoma survival rates in people with skin of color. In another study, the five-year survival rate in African-Americans was 58.8% compared with 84.8% in white people.

These statistics are shocking and also totally preventable.

Early detection is essential to improve melanoma survival rates. To catch melanoma in its early stages, it is important to go to the dermatologist if you have a new suspicious mole.

New or unusual moles on the hands and feet are especially concerning in people with skin of color and should be checked by a dermatologist. Also pay attention to your existing moles and see a dermatologist if you notice significant changes. Early detection is key when dealing with skin cancer so I urge anyone to not delay if a suspicious mole is spotted.

This is certainly a relevant concern as the face of America is changing. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation's Hispanic population is 50.5 million and accounts for more than half of the country's growth over the past decade. The African-American population is 42 million people and accounts for 14% of the population.

The need for proper education and skin cancer screenings is crucial. Increased awareness this will ensure that the African American and Hispanic population doesn't fall victim to a very preventable disease.

All News  Now Viewing Category: All
Media Relations
President Caboni News
Gordon Ford College of Business
Ogden News
Academic Affairs
WKU Regional Campuses
Glasgow News
Etown & Fort Knox
Owensboro News
The Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky
The Center for Gifted Studies
Emergency Preparedness
Housing & Residence Life
Student Activities and Organizations
Augenstein Alumni Center
Campus Activities Board
The Confucius Institute
Cultural Enhancement Series
Department of Music
Department of Theatre & Dance
Development and Alumni Relations
Downing Museum
Downing Student Union
Employee Wellness
Hardin Planetarium
Health Services
Human Resources News
Instruments of American Excellence
International Student Office
Kinesiology, Recreation & Sport
Library News
Math News
Office of International Programs
Office of Research
Office of Sustainability
Parent's Association
School of Journalism & Broadcasting
Student Financial Assistance
Scholarships Student Financial Assistance
Student Employment
Student Government Association News
Student Research Council
Study Abroad
Van Meter Auditorium
WKU Educational Leadership Doctoral Program News
WKU Joint Admissions
WKU Parent and Family Weekend
Latest Headlines
WKU President Caboni visits Glasgow, honors area students

Western Kentucky University President Timothy C. Caboni was honored during a welcome reception at WKU-Glasgow Wednesday afternoon.

WKU's student publications finalists in all 4 Pacemaker categories

For the first time, WKU Student Publications has four finalists for national Pacemaker awards -- one in each category in which the Associated Collegiate Press honors the nation's best student-run publications.

Estate gift to support several areas on WKU campus

WKU has received an estate gift of more than $2.5 million from the late Beulah R. Winchel.

Featured Articles
Estate gift to support several areas on WKU campus

WKU has received an estate gift of more than $2.5 million from the late Beulah R. Winchel.

WKU Police Department to debut new uniforms

The WKU Police Department will be sporting a new look on Saturday afternoon (Sept. 23).

Kappa Delta Sorority to formally receive national honor Sept. 23

The WKU chapter of Kappa Delta Sorority will have plenty to celebrate Sept. 23 as it formally receives Kappa Delta’s highest honor for a collegiate chapter. The award presentation will begin at 11 a.m. at the chapter house, 1600 Chestnut St.

Note: documents in Portable Document Format (PDF) require Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0 or higher to view,
download Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Note: documents in Excel format (XLS) require Microsoft Viewer,
download excel.

Note: documents in Word format (DOC) require Microsoft Viewer,
download word.

Note: documents in Powerpoint format (PPT) require Microsoft Viewer,
download powerpoint.

Note: documents in Quicktime Movie format [MOV] require Apple Quicktime,
download quicktime.

 Last Modified 5/2/17