To prevent skin cancer you should wear sunscreen and avoid too much sun, no matter what color your skin say US doctors.

The American Medical Association announced this advice as part of a new set of Skin Cancer Prevention in Communities of Color policies at its annual meeting in Chicago last week.

Skin cancer is on the rise among American blacks and Hispanics, they said, adding that many people with darker skin don’t realize they are also at risk of skin cancer, and often the consequences are more severe for blacks than for whites.

The AMA reported that the five year survival rate from melanoma, a less common but deadlier form of skin cancer, is only 59 per cent in African Americans compared to 85 per cent for Caucasians. Also, the incidence of melanoma among Hispanics has gone up in the last 15 years and is comparable to the incidence among whites.

African Americans and Hispanics undergo less frequent skin cancer screening and “mistakenly believe that their chance for developing skin cancer is lower compared to Caucasians”, said the AMA in a statement.

The new policies are intended to make people of all skin colors more aware of the risks of skin cancer, support and encourage them to undergo skin cancer screening and do more to protect themselves from the harmful effects of the sun.

AMA Board Member Dr Peter W. Carmel told the media that everyone, regardless of race or ethnic origin should have the same sun protection, use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF value of 15, and stay out of the sun during peak hours. They should also undergo regular exams, he said, but explained that:

“African Americans and Hispanics are much less likely to practice these behaviors, and the AMA supports efforts to increase awareness.”

The percentage of Americans who develop melanoma has more than doubled in the past 30 years, says the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

According to NCI figures, of well over 1 million new cases of skin cancer in the US every year, only 68,000 are of melanoma, although it accounts for the vast majority of nearly 9,000 deaths.

Source: AMA, NCI.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD