“You don’t have a face!” That’s what my friend said to me after I expressed my frustrations as to why so many people seem to think melanoma is no big deal.
“You don’t have a face…a famous face. No one famous has had melanoma nor died from it.” It was pointed out that breast cancer has many such faces (Melissa Etheridge for one). Lance Armstrong is “the face” for testicular cancer and all cancer for that matter. Dana Reeve and Peter Jennings died of lung cancer. Patrick Swayze was a victim of pancreatic cancer. While grim and macabre, my friend seemed to have a good point. But then I mentioned the name of someone famous that died from the disease.
“Bob Marley?” exclaimed my friend. “I never knew. But…how did he die from melanoma? He wasn’t white!”
Melanoma has long been considered a white person’s cancer. Those with darker skin and more melanin feel that they are immune to this disease. There’s some truth to this in that darker skin has a natural SPF of about 13. But if left unprotected, the skin of Hispanics, African-Americans, and all races with darker skin can indeed burn and thus develop skin cancer as easily as those with lighter skin.
Yes, Caucasians are much more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma…about 156 times more likely than blacks and 35 times more likely than Hispanics according to a 2009 study at Northwestern University. But if detected early, their survival rate is about 91%. For African-Americans, the survival rate falls to around 77%. This is attributed to the fact that many general practitioners are not properly trained to discern the various types of moles, freckles and scars from those marks that are potentially life-threatening…especially in darker-skinned races where these marks blend in more easily.
Once again, the solution seems to be awareness. Although darker skin is more protective from the sun’s rays, all people, regardless of skin color, can get a sun burn if they don’t apply sunscreen. No one is immune from the sun. And no sun tan is a healthy tan.
Make sure to spread the sunscreen. And spread the word.