According to a study published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, patients with skin of colour are less likely to survive melanoma than patients with lighter skin.
"Everyone is at risk for skin cancer, regardless of race," said Jeremy S. Bordeaux, MD, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio. "Patients with skin of colour 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 current study, researchers utilised the National Cancer Institutès Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results database to study nearly 97,000 patients diagnosed with melanoma from 1992 to 2009. Although Caucasian patients had the highest melanoma incidence rate, they also had the best overall survival rate, followed by Hispanic patients and patients in the Asian American/Native American/Pacific Islander group.
African-American patients had the worst overall survival rate, and they were also the group most likely to be diagnosed with melanoma in its later stages, when the disease is more difficult to treat. However, the timing of the diagnosis is not the only factor that affects this group's survival rates, as African-American patients had the worst prognosis for every stage of melanoma.
Dr. Bordeaux said these differences in survival rates may be due to disparities in the timeliness of melanoma detection and treatment among different races; for example, patients with skin of colour may not seek medical attention for irregular spots on their skin because they don't believe these lesions pose a risk. In addition, there may be biologic differences in melanoma among patients with skin of colour, resulting in more aggressive disease in these patients.
More research is necessary to determine why survival rates differ among different ethnic groups, he says, but in the meantime, patients of with skin of colour should be aware of their skin cancer risk.
"Because skin cancer can affect anyone, everyone should be proactive about skin cancer prevention and detection," said Dr. Bordeaux. "Don't let this potentially deadly disease sneak up on you because you don't think it can happen to you."
Although sun protection is important for everyone, Dr. Bordeaux said that people with skin of colour are prone to skin cancer in areas that aren't commonly exposed to the sun, including the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. He said these individuals should be especially careful to examine hard-to-see areas when monitoring their skin for signs of skin cancer, asking a partner to help if necessary.