Can You Get Skin Cancer with Darker Skin? Understanding the Risks

Learn from Cumberland dermatology why people of color are at risk of skin cancer.

Can You Get Skin Cancer with Darker Skin? Understanding the Risks

When one thinks of who is most at risk of skin cancer, someone with pale skin and lighter hair usually comes to mind.

While it’s true that those of Caucasian descent are more likely to develop the condition, the reality is that those with more melatonin are not exempt. In fact, if you have darker skin and do develop skin cancer, you’re likely to have far worse outcomes over the long run.

Here, we’ll explore the real risks of skin cancer for those with darker skin and share how you can protect yourself.

What Does Skin Cancer Look Like? 

Skin cancer occurs when your cells undergo abnormal growth after exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, usually from the sun. It tends to develop in the places that get the most sun exposure, including the scalp, face, ears, and hands.

There are three main types to know about:

  • Basal cell carcinoma: The most common skin cancer with more than 1 million US cases per year, basal cell carcinoma typically looks like open sores, pink growths, or shiny bumps.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: This second-most-common skin cancer appears as scaly red patches, open sores, and raised growths similar to warts.
  • Melanoma: Considered the most serious type of skin cancer, melanoma usually looks like an irregular mole in the beginning stages but can spread quickly. You’re at higher risk of developing melanoma if you live near the equator or at high elevations, have a family history of skin cancer, or have lots of moles naturally.

Why Does Darker Skin Affect Your Risk of Skin Cancer?

Melanin, the skin pigment responsible for giving you a darker complexion, acts as a natural barricade to UV light, and can reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. That’s why people with darker skin have lower incidences of both basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers.

Melanoma is a different story. This cancer often goes undiscovered for months because it closely mimics other skin conditions like moles, warts, or common sores. It can also develop in places that don’t receive much sun exposure, such as your palms, the bottom of your feet, and under your nails.

This makes melanoma challenging to spot in the early stages, and many people with darker skin aren’t checking for the signs to begin with. They often don’t realize they have it until the cancer has already progressed. This leads to less preventative care, fewer checkup appointments, and a higher overall mortality rate when the cancer is finally discovered.

That’s why it’s critical that you book frequent appointments with a dermatologist, regardless of your skin tone, so that you can catch skin changes when they first occur.

Address Skin Cancer Concerns at Cumberland Skin Surgery and Dermatology

There’s never a time better than the present to learn whether you have skin cancer. The sooner you get an accurate diagnosis, the quicker you can start treatment and improve your chances of making a full recovery.

For those in Hermitage, Lebanon, Brentwood, or Hendersonville, Tennessee, Cumberland Skin Surgery and Dermatology is committed to helping you address every skin concern, from the cosmetic to the cancerous.