Melanoma risk for people with darker skin and more skin cancer myths

Skin cancer is usually caused by the sun’s rays. Melanoma is skin cancer’s most serious type. In this article, we will explore some myths about whether people with darker skin have less risk, if short exposure is harmless, and how often we should apply sunscreen.


“People with dark skin don’t get skin cancer”

Where does the myth come from?

According to the World Health Organization, Caucasian populations (due to their relative lack of skin pigmentation) have a much higher risk of getting skin cancer compared to dark-skinned populations. This applies to both non-melanoma and melanoma types of skin cancer. Naturally brown and black people can usually tolerate higher levels of sun exposure without getting sunburned or greatly increasing their skin cancer risk. Nevertheless, excessive exposure to intense sunlight can damage all skin types.

The reality behind the myth

Caucasians are the primary victims of skin cancer. However, everyone, regardless of skin color, can fall prey to it. Unfortunately, many are under the impression that non-Caucasian people are immune to this disease. Although skin cancer is less common in African-American and Hispanic populations than in Caucasian populations, those who develop melanoma (an aggressive type of skin cancer) and are African-American or Hispanic are more likely to die from the disease than Caucasian melanoma patients.

The most likely reason behind this is that dark-skinned people are less likely to seek treatment for skin lesions before the disease has reached an advanced stage. For example, acral lentiginous melanoma (the most common melanoma in African-Americans and Asians) often goes unrecognized because it affects parts of the skin where cancer is not expected, such as the palms, soles, and nail beds.




“I am at risk of skin cancer only if I am exposed to the sun’s rays for a long time.”

Where does the myth come from?

Indeed, people are more likely to get skin cancer if they spend a lot of time in the sun as this exposes them to too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This results from the fact that chronic exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation present in sunlight is responsible for the induction of most skin cancer in humans.

The reality behind the myth

Skin cancer can affect anyone, regardless of sun exposure, though it is more prevalent among those who have significant contact with the sun’s rays. Other risk factors include a family history of skin cancer and medical conditions and medications that suppress the immune system or increase skin’s sensitivity to the sun. It is important to apply sunscreen when outside, even on hazy days or days with light or broken cloud cover, because UV light still permeates.


“I can be protected if I only apply sunscreen once a day”

Where does the myth come from?

Sunscreen products work by absorbing or reflecting some of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation and thus they help us protect against sunburn. Sunscreens can be used to prevent some forms of cancers. However, we must know how to apply them in order to be fully protected.

The reality behind the myth

Sunscreen works for a limited time. You should reapply sunscreen every two hours or according to the directions on the product label. Sunscreen should always be reapplied after swimming or participating in any activity that causes perspiration. Water-resistant sunscreens need to be reapplied every 40 or 80 minutes, according to the product label.


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Other sources include Texas Oncology and MD Anderson Cancer Center

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