Skin cancer in people of color

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 51, No. 7, September 2009, Page 293 News

The 5-year survival rate for black people with melanoma is 59% compared to 85% for white people. “While people of color are less likely to become afflicted with skin cancer, they are much more likely to die from it due to a delay in detection,” says Perry Robins, MD, president of the Skin Cancer Foundation (US). “Therefore, we need to make these populations aware of the importance of early detection, prompt treatment, and effective prevention.”

“We often use ethnicity as a proxy for skin color, which is a mistake,” says Mona A. Gohara, MD, educational spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation. “Within each ethnic group there is a range of skin tones, all of which are at risk for skin cancer.”

The most common forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. Each of these has been linked to intermittent or chronic sun exposure.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer in white, Hispanic, Chinese, and Japanese people, and the second most common skin malignancy in black and Indian people.

Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common skin malignancy among black and Indian people, and the second most common skin cancer among Hispanic, Chinese, and Japanese people.

Melanoma is the third most common type of skin cancer among all racial groups. Although UV light, along with heredity, plays a role in the causation of melanoma in white people, the primary risk factor for melanoma in people of color is undetermined. 

Among people of African descent, Asians, and Native people, melanomas are most likely to appear in the mouth or in the form of acral lentiginous melanoma—melanomas on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and under the nails. 

Reported risk factors for melanoma in minority populations include albinism, burn scars, radiation therapy, trauma, immunosuppression, and pre-existing moles (especially on the palms/soles and mouth). Due to delayed diagnoses, melanoma is frequently fatal for people of Asian, Latin, and African descent.

. Skin cancer in people of color. BCMJ, Vol. 51, No. 7, September, 2009, Page(s) 293 - News.

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