More Sun Equals More Skin Cancer -- Even for Blacks
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
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.
Nonmelanoma skin cancer killed 670 black men, 515 black women, more than
10,000 white men, and about 6,500 white women.
Researchers found that for black males, death rates from melanoma increased
significantly with increasing levels of UVB radiation from sunlight.
Nonmelanoma death rates also increased. But the death rates from melanoma in
black women did not increase.
They also found that the risk of melanoma did not increase in either black
men or black women. However, researchers found that blacks with melanoma are
more likely of die of melanoma than are whites.
This is probably because blacks' melanoma may be diagnosed at a later stage
than whites' melanoma, Kenneth G. Gross, MD, tells WebMD. "Because
physicians do not expect to see melanoma in blacks, they may not be looking for
it," says Gross, a specialist in dermatologic surgery and a professor of
dermatology at the University of California, San Diego.
Although not proven, the researchers and commentators agree that blacks,
especially light-skinned men, may benefit from sun-blocking agents when out in
- New research shows that skin cancer rates in blacks increase with higher
levels of exposure to UVB radiation from sunlight.
- The overall risk and death from melanoma among blacks is still lower than
- Blacks, especially those who are light-skinned, may benefit from using
protective measures such as sunscreen.