Skin Color Effects Melanoma Survival

Caucasians found to have better skin cancer survival rates.

Despite Caucasians having a higher risk of skin cancer than the general population, a new study found that individuals with skin of color are less likely to survive the disease.

It is commonly believed among individuals with skin of color that they do not need to be concerned with developing melanoma, but a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that this is a dangerous misconception.

“Everyone is at risk for skin cancer, regardless of race,” said study author Jeremy S. Bordeaux, MD, MPH, FAAD. “Patients with skin of color may believe they aren’t at risk, but that is not the case — and when they do get skin cancer, it may be especially deadly.”

For the study, researchers used the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results database to examine nearly 97,000 individuals diagnosed with melanoma from 1992 to 2009.

The results of the study showed that although the Caucasian patients had the highest rate of melanoma incidence, they also had the best overall survival rate. This was followed by Hispanic patients and patients in the Asian American/Native America/Pacific Islander group.

When it came to African American patients, study results showed that they had the worst overall survival rate and were the group that was most likely to be diagnosed with melanoma in its advanced stages, when the disease is most difficult to treat.

Although the timing of diagnosis is a factor that affects this groups survival rates, it is not the only one. Findings showed that African American patients had the worst prognosis for every stage of melanoma.

The study authors stated that the differences in survival rates may be due to disparities in the timeliness of melanoma detection and treatment among the different races. Patients with skin of color may not seek medical attention for irregular spots on their skin because they don’t believe that they pose any sort of threat.

There also may be biologic differences in melanoma among patients with skin of color, which could result in more aggressive disease in these patients. To determine why the survival rates different among different ethnic groups, more research needs to be done.

However, in the meantime, individuals with skin of color should be aware of their skin cancer risk, researchers stated.

“Because skin cancer can affect anyone, everyone should be proactive about skin cancer prevention and detection,” Bordeaux said. “Don’t let this potentially deadly disease sneak up on you because you don’t think it can happen to you.”

Regardless of skin color, everyone should take steps to protect themselves from ultraviolet radiation exposure. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that individuals wear protective clothing, use a broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and seek shade.

Authors stressed that although sun protection is important for everyone, people with skin of color are more prone to skin cancer in areas that are not commonly exposed to the sun, such as the palms of hands and the soles of feet. These individuals should be particularly careful to examine hard-to-see areas when they are monitoring their skin for signs of skin cancer.

“Skin cancer is most treatable when detected early, so everyone should regularly examine their skin for new or suspicious spots,” Bordeaux said. “If you notice any spots that are different from the others, or anything changing, itching, or bleeding on your skin, make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist.”