If you have skin – you are at risk for melanoma. That’s it. Plain and simple. EVERYONE – no matter age, gender or race can develop melanoma. It does not discriminate and it isn’t always about the sun. Melanoma can occur due to genetics and hormonal changes related to puberty and pregnancy – especially among adolescents and young adults where diagnosis is at “epidemic proportions”.
Many people of color live under the false assumption that they cannot develop melanoma because higher levels of melanin in their skin offer immunity to damaging rays of the sun. Yes, there is less risk than those with fair skin, but when melanoma does occur, it is usually late stage with a much worse prognosis. Consider this: on the average – only 65% of patients of color diagnosed with melanoma survive five years compared to 91% of white patients. Why? A clear lack of awareness, education and preventive care among patients and the medical profession.
Acral Lentiginous Melanoma or ALM is is the most common form of melanoma in people with darker skin and those of Asian descent although it can develop in all skin colors. It is found on the sole of the foot, the palm of the hand or under the nails. It can develop from an existing mole or pop out of nowhere! Although the actual cause is not clear, ALM appears more related to genetics than sun exposure. It is the form of melanoma that famously claimed the life of reggae icon Bob Marley.
Death rates from ALM are higher than other forms of melanoma mostly because it is often overlooked due to a lack of awareness and education among the patients and physicians. So what can you do? Begin by taking care of yourself!
- Wear SPF 30 or 50 sunscreen every day – no matter your skin color. It’s a challenge to find a sunscreen that blends well with darker skin. Sunscreens containing titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide are the answer. Look for formulas that are micronized zinc preparations. They do especially well on darker skin tones by offering protection without a chalky look!
- Get screened annually by a certified dermatologist! Make sure the examination includes an evaluation of your feet, hands and nails. Keep in mind general practitioners, internists, or pediatricians are not trained in dermatology and can overlook any suspicious moles. You need a dermatologist who utilizes dermatscopy.
- Wear UPF 50 clothing during extended time in the sun. There are so many wonderful sports and fashion looks out there; Sun50, Coolibar, Athleta, Columbia Sports, the list goes on and on. Think of it as shopping to stay healthy!
- Check yourself out! Evaluate your own skin monthly and be sure to call a dermatologist if you see any unusual changes. Listen to the voice in your head. Your instincts usually are right!
Take charge of your skin and spread the word! Prevention is the cure when it comes to melanoma. Stay well. Stay safe. #livelifelikeclaire