Cancer must be detected in darker skins too

It’s a common misconception that only white people, especially the fair-skinned, risk developing skin cancer.

Advice about high-factor sunblock, seeking shade and covering up are most vigorously targeted at people who do not tan or have many freckles or moles.

Yet, this widespread advice, while helpful to many, could inadvertently have created a deadly myth.

Dark skin is also at risk of developing melanoma, the type of skin cancer most likely to kill. In fact, one particularly aggressive cancer – acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM) – is found in African-Caribbean and other dark-skinned people more often than in white and pale-skinned people.

Usually, the ALM is on the sole of the foot, the nail bed or the palm of the hand – once again, a detail not usually mentioned in public advice, which stresses the legs and the back as the most commonly affected parts of the body.

Another common message about skin cancer is that the earlier it is found and treated, the better the chances of a full recovery.

In the UK, survival rates for malignant melanoma continue to increase, with 84 per cent of men and 92 per cent of women surviving for at least five years after diagnosis, according to Cancer Research UK. When treated at the earliest stage, the survival rate is 100 per cent.

This ought to be great news. Unfortunately, for many people with ALM, the belief that melanoma is a “white person’s cancer” could mean a lack of diagnosis until the disease is at a stage that is more difficult, or impossible, to treat successfully.

More than 13,000 people a year in the UK are diagnosed with malignant melanoma skin cancer, over five times the number in the 1970s, according to Cancer Research UK. About 16.5 per cent of those die as a result of the disease.

Education can help drive down the tragic death toll by encouraging people to seek diagnosis as soon as possible. But it is time to stop minimising the risks to black and other dark-skinned people from skin cancer advice.

As long as people with dark skin are told melanoma is something for fair-skinned, pale-eyed people to worry about, they risk missing early signs.

As medical negligence solicitors, we want to see GPs go beyond the clichéd advice when informing and diagnosing patients.

Otherwise, not only could cancer misdiagnosis claims continue to increase, but, tragically, people may die unnecessarily.

At Hudgell Solicitors, we have a dedicated, sympathetic team of medical negligence and personal injury solicitors who have experience of more than 20 years’ experience in dealing with various complex cases.