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May 17
Dark skin equally vulnerable to skin cancer
The myth that fair-skinned people are at higher risk of skin cancer and other problems associated with too much exposure to the sun than dark skinned is no more correct.

Dark-skinned people are also vulnerable to skin cancer and harmful effects of UV rays emitted by the sun, and indoor tanning beds, according to experts.

During the current National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Awareness Month, people of all ethnic backgrounds are encouraged to learn about their skin cancer risks and the benefits of sun safety.

"Darker skin has more pigment-making cells, which provide some inherent protection against UV rays, but not enough," said Adam Friedman, MD, director of dermatologic research, Division of Dermatology, Montefiore Medical Center.

"This unique biological difference means harmful effects of UV exposure occur more slowly in people of colour, but UV rays are still damaging and can cause cosmetic problems and serious conditions like skin cancer," Friedman said.

While skin cancer is rarer in people of colour, but it does occur and can be extremely serious when diagnosis is delayed, he says.

For example, melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is 20 times more common in whites than in African Americans, but people with darker skin are at greater risk of late diagnosis with advanced, thicker melanomas and lower survival rates.

"I`ve had patients tell me they don`t use sunscreen because they don`t like the white residue that`s left behind.

New sunscreens combine multiple sun-blocking agents in cosmetically appealing formulations that work together, providing a better sunscreen formula that can blend well into any skin type," said Dr. Friedman.

People often say they avoid sunscreen because it prevents them from getting vitamin D from the sun, which they believe is the best source.

While vitamin D is very important, getting it from harmful UV radiation is not the way to go. Remaining vigilant about sun exposure is a must, especially during peak hours between 10 am and 2 pm, he said.

"Sunscreen alone is not enough to protect you from skin cancer. Sunscreen ingredients become ineffective over time, so make sure the products are current," he added.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer and accounts for nearly half of all cancer diagnoses in the United States.

Although risk levels vary among skin types, preventive measures can significantly minimise sun damage and the potential for skin cancer to develop.

"We need to raise awareness about skin cancer risk for people of colour. When detected early, skin cancer is highly curable, so the more you know, the better. The potential health benefits of protecting the skin are immeasurable," Friedman said.

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