Is skin cancer really less common in darker skin?
Contrary to popular belief, skin cancer actually affects people of all colors, including those with darker skin tones. However, compared to those with lighter skin, skin cancer is more likely to go undetected in people of color. Why? Because moles in dark-skinned individuals don't get checked as often due to the misconception that people with darker skin tones don't get cancer. Additionally, people with darker skin tend to get skin cancer in different locations than people with fair skin, such as their nails, hands, and feet.
What are the four types of skin cancer?
There are four main types of skin cancer — basal cell, Merkel cell, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
- Basal cell carcinoma. It is the most common form of skin cancer and develops from abnormal, uncontrolled growth of basal cells. Because this type of skin cancer grows slowly, it's the most curable and causes minimal damage when caught early. Basal cell carcinoma can look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, and shiny bumps.
- Merkel cell carcinoma. It is a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer that has a high risk of reoccurring and spreading. It develops when Merkel cells in the skin grow abnormally and is more deadly than melanoma. This kind of skin cancer often appears on sun-exposed areas of the body and can appear as a pearly pimple-like lump, sometimes skin-colored, bluish-red, purple, and red.
- Squamous cell carcinoma. It is the second most common form of skin cancer caused by accelerated, abnormal growth of squamous cells. When caught early, this kind of skin cancer is usually curable. Squamous cell carcinoma can appear as scaly red patches, open sores, rough, thickened skin or raised growths with a central depression.
- Melanoma. It is one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer next to Merkel cell carcinoma. It occurs when pigment-producing cells mutate and continue to divide uncontrollably. Melanoma can develop anywhere on the skin. Signs include the spread of pigment from the border of a spot into the surrounding skin and changes in the surface of a mole, such as scaliness, oozing, and bleeding.
How to detect signs of skin cancer
Since skin cancer is visible on the skin, it can be found early. The best way to detect skin cancer is to check your skin once a month for any abnormalities, and visit a dermatologist for a check-up once a year. When you're doing your monthly self check-up, use a handheld mirror and look out for these signs:
- A dark spot, growth, or darker patch of skin that is growing, bleeding, or changing in any way
- A sore that won't heal, or heals and returns
- A patch of skin that feels rough and dry
- A dark line underneath or around a fingernail or toenail
- A mole that changes in color, size, or feel or that bleeds
- A painful lesion that itches or burns
If you find something that looks out of character, you should schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to follow up. The good news is that treatment often cures skin cancer when treated early—and that's why it's so important to perform self-checks.
Prevention is key
In addition to monitoring your skin regularly for signs of skin cancer, you should always wear sunscreen on all exposed areas of your skin and reapply every two hours year-round. Be sure to use sunscreen specially formulated for the body and one designed for the sensitive skin on your face. You should also avoid tanning beds, which can increase your risk of skin cancer.