Blacks and Latinos were once thought to be relatively impervious to skin cancer. This is due to the fact that their skin pigmentation provides protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.
However, a University of Miami study completed in early 2006 shows that blacks are more than three times as likely as whites to be diagnosed with melanoma after it reaches a late stage. In addition, Latinos — a huge labor group within the pool and spa industry — are nearly twice as likely.
The research did not focus on the reasons behind the results, but Robert S. Kirsner, M.D., Ph.D., noted that minorities often have less access to medical care. Kirsner is vice chairman and a professor at the University of Miami’s Department of Dermatology & Cutaneous Surgery, and one of the authors of the study.
“The outcome for skin cancers in blacks and Latinos is generally worse due to late diagnosis,” says Min-Wei Christine Lee, M.D., M.P.H., dermatologic surgeon and director of The East Bay Laser & Skin Care Center in Walnut Creek, Calif. “It’s the reason most people have the false perception that people of color can’t get skin cancer. So they usually go undetected for much longer periods.
“Thus, when they finally are diagnosed, it’s already spread or metastasized and results in poor outcomes or death,” Lee adds.
Another study conducted in 2005 by the University of Southern California revealed that the skin cancer rate among Latino males has grown 7 percent per year for the past five years. While skin cancer incidences among Latinos are still lower than Caucasians, these percentage spikes are approximately double the rate in comparison with whites.
However, Martin A. Weinstock, M.D., Ph.D., says the studies may be disingenuous. He believes every race has light- and dark-skinned individuals and that pigmentation is more of a factor when it comes to skin cancer rather than ethnicity.
“The color of the skin is what matters,” says Weinstock, chairman of the Skin Cancer Advisory Group at the American Cancer Society, and professor of dermatology and community health at Brown University in Providence, R.I. “Melanin is in everyone’s skin. People with darker skin have more of it and it protects them from the sun.
“I don’t think [skin cancer] is on the rise for black people except for those with light skin. And Hispanics span the whole spectrum [of skin tones].”
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