It’s officially summer! That means vacation, sun, and lots of fun. It also means more time outside. While we believe black “don’t crack”, we are not immune from sun damage. Not only does the sun’s ultraviolet rays increase premature aging, it can cause skin cancer. What’s worse is that skin cancer has been shown to be deadlier in people of color.
Singer, Bob Marley, died at 36 from an aggressive form of skin cancer known as ALM, which people of darker skin are more prone to. Before you hit the beach or sail off on that cruise you’ve been dreaming about, be prepared and informed.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, African Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with late stage melanoma and have the lowest survival rates. At age 22, Jacqueline Smith was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma.
In an interview with Hello Beautiful, Jacqueline shared her trials and triumph over skin cancer.
“I kept thinking, ‘I am not a fair skinned middle aged woman! How is this possible? We don’t get skin cancer. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Jacqueline recalled being told in middle school that she didn’t need sunscreen because she was “darker-skinned”. In a survey, 63 percent of African American participants said they had never used sunscreen (click HERE for a list of 5 sunscreens that won’t leave you ashy). After being misdiagnosed twice, Jacqueline was treated for skin cancer. This involved removing a lymph node and follow up visits once her cancer were determined undetectable. However three years later, the cancer returned.
“They did a biopsy and told me that it was melanoma. I was devastated.”
Jacqueline’s cancer had proven to be aggressive and a new approach was adopted to treat it. After surgery to remove multiple lymph nodes, radiation, and an experimental interferon treatment in a clinical trial, Jacqueline is still here. At 36, Jacqueline has become an advocate for prevention through early detection and treatment.
“It’s important to share my story with other African-Americans so that they can understand that skin cancer is our problem too. I’ve worked with other cancer organizations and have even been to Capitol Hill to spread the word!”
3 Tips To Preventing Skin Cancer
- Get screened. While there are several factors that can contribute to skin cancer (age, overall health, family history, skin coloration, past history of skin problems and sunburns), getting screened helps protect you. Melanomas that occur on parts of the body that are not exposed to sunlight are rare, but make up a large percentage of cases in African Americans. Late diagnosis is why African Americans have a lower skin cancer survival rate. Whether performed by your doctor or dermatologist, getting screened is painless and takes less than an hour. Be persistent and advocate for yourself. If you detect there is a problem, get a second opinion or third if necessary.
- Consider clinical trials. Jacqueline credits the clinical trial she participated in as part of her survival.
“God forbid you have cancer, but if you do and are offered to be in a clinical trial, strongly consider enrolling, because it can definitely save and change the quality of your life.”
Let Jacqueline’s story inspire us all to be diligent and mindful that skin cancer can affect us too. Be safe this summer and keep that sunscreen on deck!