Melanoma does not discriminate. In fact, African-Americans are more likely to die from melanoma -- the deadliest, most common form of skin cancer -- than are Caucasians in the United States.
And although the incidence of skin cancer was more than 10 times higher among whites, African-Americans who contracted melanoma had a far lower survival rate than whites, according to a study done by the University of Michigan.
The Michigan study, which surveyed 2,187 African-American adults, revealed that 63 percent of them had never used sunscreen. Only 31 percent were found to protect themselves from the sun in at least one way, such as wearing a hat.
Andrea Richards, a 34-year-old African-American from Sacramento, Calif., recently was sitting under an umbrella at her daughter's outdoor swim meet at Woodland High School near Sacramento, Calif. Richards said she believes that melanin, the pigment that gives her skin its hue, provides blacks with enough protection from the sun.
"In the days that it is really hot, I may think about wearing sunscreen, but nine times out of 10, I don't wear it," Richards said.
Her comments startled her 61-year-old father, Danny Richards. He suffered a severe and painful sunburn that peeled off skin. He visited his physician and was told that sunscreen would protect his skin.
"I don't ever think about leaving home without it," he said.
April Armstrong, a dermatologist at University of California, Davis Medical Center, said that although African-Americans have a lower incidence of skin cancer, they are still at risk for developing it. That risk holds true for darker-skinned people of any race.
Armstrong said she believes people who don't wear sunblock may have grown up in households where their parents and siblings never used it.
Easter Chiu, 31, grew up in American Samoa, where neither she nor her relatives wore sunscreen. She said she thinks humidity deterred many people there from using it. At the swim meet, however, she had protected her brown skin with sunscreen and was sitting beneath an umbrella.
"I use it here now because I am afraid of any sort of skin cancer type, and I especially want to protect my kids out in the sun swimming pretty much daily," Chiu said.
Armstrong recommended that people use sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher every day, and they should reapply it every three hours if out in the sun.
She also suggested wearing clothing that covers arms and legs, and a hat with a wide brim. On sunny days, she said, seek shade, especially at midday.
Armstrong said she has diagnosed melanoma in African-Americans, who often are surprised to learn that they have the skin cancer.
"They tell me that they did not think that it was possible to develop melanoma," she said. "And oftentimes they don't know any member of the family that has melanoma."
Experts believe that African-Americans are usually diagnosed with melanoma too late. At the swim meet, the talk of sunscreen had gotten Danny Richards thinking. Looking at his daughter Andrea, he said, "I have to have a talk with her."
(E-mail reporter Jacqueline Baylon at jbaylon(at)sacbee.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)
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