Black Don't Crack? Think Again.

Why black people shouldn’t depend on melanin for skin cancer immunity.


Black Don’t Crack. But apparently black skin is not completely impervious to the sun. Or so I learned the hard way.

I went to see the dermatologist to have a “mole” on my face checked. No big deal; I’d had it a long time. But over the past six months it had changed a bit, so after slicing it off the dermatologist had it routinely biopsied. Imagine my surprise when the doctor personally called to inform me that my mole was actually a sun sarcoma containing suspicious cells—this, when another dermatologist a few years ago barely gave it a second look. 


My new doctor made it clear that I needed to come in sooner rather than later for treatment. Whoa, suspicious cells. Were they wearing ninja hoodies and meeting in secret to engage in terrorist activities? Kind of. They were basal cells that, if left untreated, would likely grow into a much more serious issue—like skin cancer.


Now, African Americans are pretty far down on the list of skin cancer candidates. Still, we shouldn’t count on our melanin for immunity. Granted, the rates in which we get infected are definitely lower than that of other populations. Perhaps because of that, we often don’t bother to get suspicious growths checked. And when we finally do make it to the dermatologist, if the diagnosis is cancer, it’s more advanced—and often more deadly. To prevent that from happening, it behooves us all to brush up on the facts about our skin, the sun and cancer.


Skin Cancer 101


The two most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, which is sometimes called nonmelanoma skin cancer.