Skin Cancer in Skin of Color

Skin cancer in skin of color
There’s a common myth that people with darker skin aren’t susceptible to skin cancer, but that falsehood puts many people at risk. A study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that 63 percent of black Americans reported never using sunscreen.

While it’s true that black-and-brown-skinned people are at a lower risk for skin cancers associated with ultraviolet radiation, they’re not invulnerable. In fact, certain forms of skin cancer are more common in that demographic. Skin cancers in Asian, black, and Latino people are also more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage, and consequently have a higher mortality rate.

Even With Lower Risk Factors, People of Color Aren’t Immune

Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are the two most common forms of skin cancer. They occur more frequently in Caucasian people, but when they do pop up in people with darker skin, they’re more dangerous.

A study by the Department of Health and Human Services found that in Caucasians, basal and squamous cell carcinomas appear more frequently on sun-exposed skin such as the head, face, or neck, where they’re more easily detectable. In darker-skinned people, however, those cancers are more likely to emerge in less noticeable areas such as the legs, feet, or buttocks.

Additionally, those cancers have a 20 to 40 percent rate of metastasis in people with darker skin, compared to 1 to 4 percent in Caucasians. Basal and squamous cell carcinomas usually have excellent prognoses, but the 10-year survival rate drops to less than 20 percent if the disease metastasizes.

People of Color Are Also At Risk for Melanoma

The increased levels of melanin in darker skin block about twice as much UV radiation as they do in lighter skin. Because of that, melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is also less common in skin of color.

However, similar to basal and squamous cell carcinomas, melanoma is harder to detect in darker skin. In Caucasians, melanoma often manifests as dark, rapidly changing, or bleeding skin lesions. In non-whites, though, it often presents in hard-to-notice areas. For example, in black Americans, melanoma most commonly appears on the soles of the feet. In Asians, it’s most prevalent inside the mouth.

This leads to problems with diagnoses. Melanoma is diagnosed at a late stage in 52 percent of black patients and 26 percent of Latino patients, compared to just 16 percent of white patients.

Additionally, one form of melanoma, acral lentiginous melanoma, is not caused by UV radiation exposure and is actually more common in people of color. ALM often appears under fingernails or toenails and on the palm of the hand. This is the disease that killed Bob Marley. The singer thought a cancerous lesion under his toenail was a bruise from playing soccer.

Schedule Your Skin Cancer Examination Today

Because of the difficulties diagnosing skin cancer in darker-skinned people, it’s vital that you have regular screenings to catch any potential cancer as early as possible. Dr. Steven Greene is a board-certified dermatologist with more than 25 years of experience. He has also worked extensively with people of color and is knowledgeable of, and sensitive to, the dermatological issues they face.

Dr. Greene serves Seattle, Tacoma, and surrounding areas of Washington. Call (206) 402-4797 today to schedule a consultation.