June is National Cancer Survivor Month, honoring those who have fought cancer and those currently impacted by it. As the months get warmer and we head into summer, it’s also important to recognize the most common type — skin cancer.
Thousands of people die from skin cancer every year, and as we draw additional attention to the risks of the disease this month, it’s critical to also recognize the disproportionate impact skin cancer has on people of color. Researchers Alpana K Gupta, Mausumi Bharadwaj and Ravi Mehrotra published research that indicates that although people of color are less likely to be impacted by skin cancer compared to white people, they are much more likely to die from the disease due to delays in detecting the onset. The researchers found that multiple causes led to these gaps.
For example, patients of color lack awareness of skin cancer, a crucial area that public health officials must remedy. People of color are frequently diagnosed with skin cancer at more advanced stages than white people — in part because of the lack of awareness — which makes it more difficult to get control of the disease. People of color are also often diagnosed later because of skin pigmentation differences. Lesions or dark spots are more visible on lighter skin, but can go unnoticed or misdiagnosed as warts or fungus on darker skin.
The researchers also noted that people of color are less likely to have access to medical coverage than white people, partially due to lower average socioeconomic status. The lower rates of access to care also accounts for late diagnoses, and harms doctors’ ability to treat skin cancer quickly and effectively.
This Summer, Be Sun Smart and Save Your Skin
With more people headed outside this summer, the Skin Cancer Foundation offers summer skin protection tips:
- Avoid spending lots of time in direct sun, particularly between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Don’t tan, and especially avoid UV tanning beds.
- When outside, cover up your skin with clothing, including a hat and sunglasses.
- Apply 1 ounce of sunscreen to your entire body every 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours. If you go swimming or are sweating excessively, you should reapply.
- For babies, use sunscreen on infants over the age of six months. Keep newborns out of the sun.
- Examine your skin every month, and see a dermatologist once a year for a professional skin exam.
Other ways you can be smart about keeping your skin healthy is by enlisting the help of your family and circle of friends.
- The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) notes that you should tap your barber to keep an eye on the skin on your head, and ask them to let you know if they see any suspicious new moles or odd marks on your scalp.
- Talk to your family about being sun safe, and include sunscreen in everyone’s daily routine.
- Know your risk, which includes knowing your family history of cancer, as some cancers can be hereditary.
- Understand that skin cancer can strike anywhere on the skin, including areas not commonly exposed to the sun. According to the AAD, 30-40% of melanomas on people of color are diagnosed on the soles of the feet.
- Learn about sun-protective clothing, sunscreens, and smart skin habits and details on what to look for during a self-exam.
- Memorize the ABCDE’s of skin cancer to easily recognize a potential problem area.
- Finally, don’t be afraid of a skin cancer diagnosis. Most skin cancers, when caught early, are very treatable, according to the AAD.
Robert F. Smith’s Work Addressing Health Disparities
Much of Robert F. Smith’s philanthropic work has centered around bridging racial disparities. Smith donated $3.8 million to launch the Robert F. Smith Mobile MRI Unit in partnership with Mount Sinai Health System in New York. Starting this summer, the mobile MRI unit will travel to highly concentrated Black neighborhoods across the city to conduct prostate screenings and set up follow-up appointments. This is especially important as Black men are disproportionately impacted by prostate cancer partially due to lack of preventative measures and awareness of risk.
“This past year has laid bare many of the economic and social inequities that continue to plague communities of color,” Smith said at the launch of the Mobile MRI Unit. “It’s unconscionable that in our great country and at this moment of technological breakthrough, Black Americans are still subject to staggeringly worse health outcomes. We can fix this.”
The Fund ll Foundation — of which Smith is founding director and President — also awarded $27 million to Susan G. Komen in 2016 to support their goal to reduce breast cancer deaths by 50% over the next ten years. The initiative has a particular focus on addressing the high breast cancer mortality rate for Black women.
Learn more about Smith’s efforts to reduce the racial disparities in prostate cancer and his larger work to reduce racial health inequities.