Disturbing Melanoma News for People of Color

Anyone can develop melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.  Although people of color are at lower risk for the disease than Caucasians, they are more likely to be diagnosed when the disease is advanced and potentially fatal.

Delays Can Be Deadly

The earlier a melanoma is detected and treated, the better the odds of survival. But in a study of 41,072 melanoma cases in Florida published in the Archives of Dermatology, blacks were 2.7 and Hispanics 1.6 times more likely than Caucasians to be diagnosed with advanced rather than localized disease. Compared to just 12 percent of Caucasian patients, 26 percent of blacks and 18 percent of Hispanics were diagnosed after their melanomas had spread from the original tumor site. Delayed diagnoses are a major reason that the overall survival rate for melanoma in the US is only 77 percent among African Americans, versus 91 percent among Caucasians.

Data from 1990 to 2004 gleaned from the Florida Cancer Data System (Florida has the second highest melanoma rate in the country) also revealed that while melanoma incidence has remained stable among black men and women, it is rising among both Caucasian and Hispanic men and women. In fact, melanoma is increasing more than three percent a year in Caucasian men and women and Hispanic women. However, the percentage of melanomas diagnosed at a later stage in Caucasians dropped between 1990 and 2004, and there was no comparable significant decrease in black and Hispanic patients.

The study illuminates the importance of prevention and early detection for people of all skin colors: “While [natural] pigmentation (deeper skin color) reduces your risk of developing melanoma, it doesn’t provide immunity, and in some cases rates of increase in melanoma among non-white populations are equal to those of whites,” said Robert S. Kirsner, MD, PhD, the study’s lead author and Vice Chairman of Dermatology at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. “This suggests that the message of sun-smart behavior should be heeded by all.”

Published on October 16, 2010