Anyone, regardless of skin color, descent or heritage, can develop skin cancer, especially if exposed to ultraviolet rays (UV) from the sun (or tanning beds) for an extended period of time.

Contrary to popular belief, this includes African-Americans as well as others with naturally darker skin pigmentation. In fact, skin cancer can sometimes be even more challenging with naturally darker skin because the cancer may not get diagnosed until it’s in more advanced stages.

It’s also important to remember that the sun and tanning beds are not the only causes of skin cancer. That’s why skin cancer may show up in places that are rarely, if ever, exposed to sunlight, like between the toes, on the soles of the feet, in the eyes (called ocular melanoma), and even on genitalia.

So, what does skin cancer look like for those with dark skin? The most common sign is a change on the skin, like a new growth or a sore that just won’t heal or an old growth that has changed in size or color.

For African-Americans, squamous cell carcinoma is the most frequently diagnosed type of skin cancer, but other commonly diagnosed skin cancers include basal cell carcinoma, melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma.

According to Miami Cancer Institute Surgical Oncologist Geoffrey Young, M.D., “Our South Florida community and people around the world need to know that regardless of race or ethnic origin, it’s important that we provide culturally relevant, accurate, medical information so we can dispel myths and arm people with facts that can help prevent skin cancer – potentially saving lives.”

Here’s where Dr. Young recommends starting:

1. Limit sun exposure, especially when the sun’s rays are strongest (this is usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).
2. Wear a hat and apply sunscreen before going outdoors.
3. Have any new or changing skin lesions quickly evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Geoffrey Young, M.D., Ph.D., is a world-renowned surgical oncologist who is chief of Head and Neck Surgery at Miami Cancer Institute.

Miami Cancer Institutes internationally recognized skin cancer specialty and subspecialty team combines medical expertise, innovation and compassionate care, all under one roof and all conveniently located right here in South Florida.

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