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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006, 23:11 GMT 00:11 UK
Dark skin 'does not block cancer'
Image of a man applying sunscreen
Sunscreen can block harmful rays
Contrary to common perception, people with dark skin are more likely to die from skin cancer than those with fairer skin, warn US researchers.

Although the disease is less common, when it does occur it is typically more aggressive and diagnosed later, which leads to more deaths, they explain.

The Cincinnati University work is a warning to anyone who wrongly assumes skin tone makes some immune to cancers.

Experts advise people of all races to protect their skin from sun damage.

Misconception

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

"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 said it was true that the extra pigment in darker skin did afford some added protection against the sun's harmful UV rays and that darker skin is, therefore, less susceptible to sunburn.

But he said this should not lull people with darker skin into a false sense of security.

Dark skin has increased epidermal melanin which provides a natural skin protection factor (SPF) - a measure of how long skin covered with sunscreen takes to burn compared with uncovered skin.

Very dark, black skin has a natural SPF of about 13 and filters twice as much UV radiation as white skin, for example.

Sun protection

However, health experts advise people to use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.

Dr Gloster told a meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in San Diego that doctors should make sure that all of their patients, regardless of race, use sunscreen and self-check for skin cancers.

This study shows that even people with darker skin need to be aware of the signs of skin cancer
Ed Yong, cancer information officer at Cancer Research UK

Malignant melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer, can present differently in different races.

Fairer-skinned people may notice a change in a sun-exposed mole, whilst darker-skinned people might develop the cancer on areas protected from the sun such as the soles of the feet.

There are over 70,000 new cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year in the UK, making it the most common type of cancer.

Ed Yong, cancer information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "This study shows that even people with darker skin need to be aware of the signs of skin cancer.

"Although those most at risk of skin cancer are people with fair skin, lots of moles or freckles or a family history of the disease, it is also important for black people to check their skin regularly.

"Black people are most likely to develop skin cancers on the palms of their hands or the soles of their feet.

"Checking your skin for unusual changes is crucial as it can mean that the disease can be spotted earlier, when it is easier to treat."




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10 Jul 05 |  Health

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