Dark-skinned people more likely to die from skin cancer

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Ultraviolet, Human skin color, Skin cancer

Although the incidence of skin cancer is rarer amongst individuals
with darker skin, lack of awareness means that the mortality rate
is higher than those with fair skin - leading experts to reiterate
advice for everyone to use sunscreen.

According to research carried out at the University of Cincinnati people with darker skin are commonly thought to be 'immune' from skin cancer - a belief that the lead author of the study, Hugh Gloster, says is simply a myth.

He says that when the disease is diagnosed in races with darker skin, such as blacks, Asians, Hispanics or Native Americans - the disease is often more advanced and, thus, harder to treat.

The research findings were presented at the American Academy of Dermatology summer meeting, held in San Diego, California, yesterday.

""There's a perception that people with darker skin don't have to worry about skin cancer, but that's not true,"​ said Gloster.

"Minorities do get skin cancer, and because of this false perception most cases aren't diagnosed until they are more advanced and difficult to treat."

"Unfortunately that translates into higher mortality rates,"​ he added.

The Cincinnati research team believes that the reason for this is that darker skinned individuals are 8.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma on areas protected from the sun such as the soles of the feet, palms of the hand and mucous membrane - areas that are not commonly exposed to the sun.

Gloster explained that because of higher skin pigmentation cells, known as melanocytes, dark skinned people are afforded more protection from the sun's UV rays, giving them a natural SPF of 13.

This means that dark skinned people on average have approximately double the natural protection from the sun's UV rays compared to those individuals with fair skin.

But although the findings suggest that UV radiation does not play such an obvious role in the formation of skin cancers in darker skin, the study emphasises that this does not mean those with dark skin should not feel they no longer need to protect themselves from the sun.

Gloster says that physicians should still stress the importance of sunscreens and skin checks in people of all skin colors as a means of prevention, as no one is excluded from risk.

For industry, although the news confirms that darker skin is better protected from UV rays, it also stresses the fact that medical experts recommend avoiding skin burn with the use of an adequate sunscreen that exceeds an SPF of 15, regardless of skin color.

Related topics: Formulation & Science, Skin Care

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