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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

More Sun Equals More Skin Cancer -- Even for Blacks

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April 14, 2000 (Minneapolis) -- Just because you're black, doesn't mean you don't need sunscreen. Skin cancer rates for blacks go up as their exposure to sunlight goes up, just as they do in whites, according to a study in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

"The study is a wake-up call for people with brown and black skin that [a dark complexion] may not protect you from skin cancer if you get a lot of sunlight," A. Paul Kelly, MD, tells WebMD. Kelly is professor and chief of dermatology at the King/Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Researchers were particularly concerned about the role of ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays, the ones that cause skin cancer.

"This paper adds to the evidence that UVB radiation [from sunlight] can increase the risks of skin cancer in the black population," co-author Mitchell Gail, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. He is chief of the biostatistics branch at the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics.

Co-author Susan Devesa, PhD, who is chief of the descriptive studies section of the biostatistics branch, says that black people vary widely in their degree of pigmentation and that light-skinned blacks, in particular, may benefit from using such preventive measures as sunscreen.

Previous studies have suggested that sunlight exposure and low levels of pigmentation -- the coloring of the skin -- put you at risk for skin cancer whether you are black or white, according to the study's authors. Other evidence also shows that the rate of skin cancer among blacks varied by geographic location in a manner similar to whites.

The authors collected information on a type of skin cancer known as melanoma, which is often fatal, and several other types of skin cancer, often grouped as "nonmelanoma skin cancer." The investigators considered data from melanoma cases among blacks and whites from 1973 to 1994 and from nonmelanoma cases from 1970 to 1981.

During those time periods, nearly 1,100 black men and more than 1,200 black women died of melanoma. More than 73,000 white men and almost 50,000 white women died of melanoma.

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