Melanoma overlooked, has higher mortality in African-American patients

September 1, 2012

While the incidence of melanoma is lower among African-Americans than it is among Caucasians, mortality due to melanoma is higher among the former. The reason, experts say, is because skin cancers in African-Americans appear on sites where they behave more aggressively, and there is a delay in diagnosis with this patient population.

Key Points

National report - While the incidence of melanoma is lower among African-Americans than it is among Caucasians, mortality due to melanoma is higher among the former. The reason, experts say, is because skin cancers in African-Americans appear on sites where they behave more aggressively, and there is a delay in diagnosis with this patient population.

Overall, amongst all Americans, melanoma is increasing in incidence more rapidly than any other cancer. The five-year survival rate for melanoma is 78 percent among African Americans, compared with 92 percent among whites, Dr. Roberts says.

The melanin that is present in darker skin may give patients a false sense of security, having them feel they are protected from developing skin cancer, Dr. Roberts says. Even in the darkest skin type, however, the percentage of melanin yields only a 13.4 percent SPF.

Awareness lacking

According to Dr. Roberts, examining skin for suspicious lesions is not top of mind for clinicians when they see their patients with skin of color.

"We thought it was so rare that we tended not to look for it and not schedule our darker-skinned patients on regular examination schedules," she says.

"There is a false perception amongst doctors and patients that people with skin of color don't get skin cancer," Dr. Gohara says.

What is disconcerting is that many individuals with skin of color don't practice sun-safe behavior and may not wear any sunscreen, Dr. Gohara adds.

A disturbing trend is that young Latina women are seeking to bronze their skin at indoor tanning establishments under the impression that they are less likely to develop skin cancer.1 In some U.S. states, the melanoma incidence amongst Latina women is exceeding that of white women,2 Dr. Gohara says.