Skin Cancer--No Discrimination Here
Fair-haired and green-eyed, I was a prime candidate for developing skin cancer, and I did. Since having a malignant melanoma removed in 2007, I have discovered that I am, by no means, alone in my risk for skin cancer. A common misconception is that Caucasians are the only segment of the population who should be concerned about melanoma, basal cell, or squamous cell carcinomas. Nothing could be further from the truth. Skin cancer does not discriminate by any stretch of the imagination.
We are all at risk
People from all age groups, races, and geographical locations can develop skin cancer. Both men and women are susceptible to the disease. The sun’s ultraviolet rays (UV) impact all of us whether our skin is prone to sunburn with exposure to sunlight or whether we have naturally darker skin and feel that we tan easily and quickly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracked the incidence rates of melanoma from 1999 to 2014. Though rates remain higher for Caucasians, the death rates for Hispanics, Asian and Pacific Islanders, and African Americans cannot be ignored.
Listen up, guys!
In my experience, women tend to be more vocal about their skin cancer diagnoses and treatments, therefore we lean toward believing skin cancer affects females more often. (I was guilty of assuming this myself.) However, men should heed the facts. According to statistics provided by skincancer.org:
- Men are more than twice as likely to die from melanoma than women.
- Beyond the age of 50, diagnosis rates are remarkably higher in males.
- In fact, the majority of newly diagnosed melanoma patients happen to be men over the age of 55.
Though both men and women with naturally darker skin report fewer melanoma diagnoses overall, the survival rate once diagnosed varies dramatically from Caucasians. Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islanders, and African American patients are much more likely to find themselves with a late-stage diagnosis than Caucasian patients. With a startling survival rate of only 69%, African Americans, are much less likely to beat a melanoma diagnosis compared to Caucasians who have been reported to have a survival rate of 93%.
Ethnicity plays a significant role in the type of skin cancer one can develop and its location on the body. While Caucasian patients are more apt to find themselves with a basal cell carcinoma diagnosis, African Americans and Asian Indians’ most common skin cancer diagnosis is squamous cell carcinoma. Caucasians’ skin cancers are more frequently found on the skin exposed regularly to the sun. Skincancer.org reports, however, that it is far more common for African Americans to develop skin cancer in areas never receiving sun exposure.
The sun, a danger to us all and a known carcinogen, only serves to increase our chances of developing melanoma, the most deadly of all skin cancers. Those cancers not caused by the UV rays and found in areas such as nail beds, inside the mouth and nose, between toes, and on or near the genitals are equally as deadly as those on exposed skin and, too often, go undiagnosed in patients with dark and/or easily-tanned skin.
Check it out--all of it
We are all encouraged to follow the ABCDEs (Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, Evolution) when performing skin checks, but many concentrate on skin exposed to direct sunlight. These exams are helpful, but not all-inclusive. Particular attention should be given to all areas regularly covered by clothing, beneath fingernails and toenails, the bottoms of the feet, palms of hands, and between fingers and toes. Self-checks are vital and especially effective when coupled with visits to a dermatologist.
How well have your skin cancer diagnoses been explained to you?