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Understanding melanoma risks and prevention in the Black community


Melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer originating from melanocytes, poses a significant risk to the Black community. Despite its rarity, the consequences of late diagnoses are severe, leading to a higher mortality rate compared to other demographics.

Common areas and types of melanoma

Typically starting on sun-exposed skin, melanoma can also develop in less visible areas like the soles of the feet or under the nails, known as acral lentiginous melanoma. This type is more common in African Americans, often going unnoticed due to its ability to blend with darker complexions.

Causes and UV radiation exposure

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight is a known trigger for melanoma. DNA damage within melanocytes can lead to uncontrolled cell growth and tumor formation. Genetic and environmental factors also play a role in melanoma development.

Detecting melanoma: the ABCDE guidelines

Early detection of melanoma is crucial, especially on darker skin where it can camouflage itself. The CDC’s ABCDE guidelines can assist in identifying warning signs:

  • Asymmetrical: Irregular shapes in moles or spots.
  • Border: Jagged or irregular borders.
  • Color: Uneven coloring.
  • Diameter: Larger than a pea.
  • Evolving: Changes in size, shape, or color over time.

Any changes in the skin should prompt a visit to a health care provider.

Stages and diagnosis of melanoma

Melanoma stages range from in situ (Stage 0) to metastatic (Stage IV). Diagnosis involves a physical examination and may include imaging tests like CT, MRI, or PET scans, and biopsies to determine the presence and spread of melanoma cells.

Treatment options

Treatment varies depending on the cancer stage and may involve surgery, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, chemotherapy, and radiation. Engaging with health care providers and understanding treatment options are vital steps after diagnosis.

Proactive measures and questions to ask

African Americans face a 26% higher risk of death from melanoma than white Americans. Regular skin checks, sun safety practices, and proactive communication with doctors are essential. Questions about the spread of melanoma, tests, treatment plans, and costs should be discussed with health care professionals.

Ultimately, prioritizing regular skin examinations and sun protection can lead to earlier diagnoses and better outcomes for the African American community.