Monday, August 11, 2014

Little-Known Skin Cancer Affects Dark-Skinned People

African-American woman, skin cancer, ALM 

Betty Jordan always regarded melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, as a white person's disease. "Whenever I heard the word, my mind would automatically think: 'Caucasian,''' she said. "It was something I never worried about.'' 

Dark-skinned people produce more melanin — the pigment that gives skin its color — than Caucasians. Melanin helps block damaging ultraviolet rays from the sun and from artificial light sources such as tanning beds, giving people of color greater protection against skin cancer than whites. But they still are susceptible. So Jordan was shocked five years ago to learn that the quarter-size dark spot on her left foot was acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM), an aggressive cancer that disproportionately afflicts African Americans and other dark-skinned people.

"I never paid any attention to it until a friend urged me to see a doctor,'' she said. "The area was hard to see, and it never occurred to me to get serious about it.''

Fortunately, the cancer was caught early and removed. The prognosis is excellent for Jordan, 69, a retired Metro computer-network engineer who lives in Temple Hills, Md. But this is not typically the case for dark-skinned people who develop ALM or other skin cancers . Because people with dark skin often assume they are not at risk, their cancers tend to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage, and patients often face a bleaker outcome.

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