Cancer in skin of colour – What you should know

by | Jul 31, 2020 | Blog, Skin Cancer

While most people of Caucasian ancestry are aware of the risks of skin cancer, and often take adequate precautions and remain vigilant for the development of the same, people with skin of colour may not be aware that they are at risk of developing skin cancer. This is a common misconception.

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All people with skin of colour, including those of Asian, Mediterranean, Latin, African, Middle Eastern and mixed heritage, are at risk of developing skin cancers. In fact, skin cancers often present in advanced stages in these ethnic groups, and are more likely to be fatal. Lack of vigilance and awareness probably plays a role in the delay of the diagnosis. Furthermore, the morphology and the presentation of these skin cancers can be quite different for people with skin of colour.


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The following are some types of skin cancers which are more common in people with skin of colour. Read on to know more about them and how and where to spot them:


  1.  Pigmented basal cell carcinoma – While basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer in all skin types, in people with coloured skin, the more common presentation is the “pigmented” variant (seen in upto 50% cases). This can present as a slow-growing bump on the skin with a pearly black appearance. BCCs are most common in the head and neck region, often in the elderly, and rare in covered areas.


  1.  Squamous Cell carcinomas – These are the most common type of skin cancer in people of African descent. Squamous Cell carcinomas are more often found on the legs, however, may occur anywhere on the body. Any non-healing ulcer or sore should raise a suspicion for this kind of cancer, and must be investigated further. They also have a propensity for developing over old scars from burns and mechanical trauma.


  1.  Acral lentiginous melanoma – This is a variant of melanoma more common in people with skin of colour. Melanomas often occur on the palms, soles, in the mouth, and under the nails in people with coloured skin. It presents as a patch of darkened skin, or a dark vertical band in your nail, which rapidly grows or changes in size and appearance. It is imperative to be vigilant for such changes, and keep a watch on these areas which may be difficult to access. If you are unsure, always seek help from a qualified dermatologist.


  1.   Kaposi’s sarcoma – This is a type of skin cancer that is endemic in Africa. Black ethnicities have a much higher incidence of this type of skin cancer as compared to Asians and Caucasians. It presents as painless, violaceous bumbs and patches, which may be difficult to detect in darker skin types. The cancerous spots commonly occur on the lower legs.


  1.   Dermatofibrosarcoma protruberans – This is a type of skin cancer that is rare in Caucasians but more common in people of African descent. They present as violaceous/brown/tan thick indurated plaques, which may grow in size. They can occur anywhere on the body.


Thus, although in general, skin cancer is less common in people with skin of colour than in Caucasians, the risk of cancer is definitely there, and the presentations may be more complex and varied. People with coloured skin need to take all the same precautions such as avoiding prolonged sun exposure, regular sunscreen usage,  performing regular self-checks of the skin, and seeking help whenever suspicious bumps or growths are noticed.

We hope this post will help you take better care of your skin and your health. If you have any concern with your skin, our recommendation is to speak with a professional. To save money and waiting times use our online dermatology service and we can get you checked by a professional within hours.

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