pass the sunscreen

Black Patients Have the Worst Skin-Cancer-Survival Rates

Photo: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Having more natural melanin does not protect you from skin cancer. A new study found that people of color have worse melanoma survival rates than white people, with black patients faring the worst of all groups.

For a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, researchers used a National Cancer Institute database to identify close to 97,000 people who’d been diagnosed with melanoma between 1992 to 2009.

The team, from Case Western Reserve University, found that white patients had the highest incidence of melanoma but also the best survival rates. Hispanic people had the next best survival rate, followed by Asian American and/or Native American and/or Pacific Islander patients. Black people had the worst survival rates, and they were also more likely to get a late-stage diagnosis when the cancer is harder to treat.

But the timing of the diagnosis wasn’t the only factor, as black patients had the worst prognosis for every stage of melanoma. The authors offered a few theories: Perhaps people of color are less likely to see a doctor because they don’t believe skin lesions or skin cancer pose a risk to them, and maybe there are biological differences that make melanoma more aggressive in people of color. Then there’s the recent revelation that half of all dermatologists weren’t trained to identify cancers on black skin.

One of the study’s authors said that people of color are more likely to develop skin cancers in areas that aren’t exposed to the sun, like the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. No matter your skin tone, use sunscreen. And if you see irregular moles in those places — or anywhere — get thee to a dermatologist.

Lower Melanoma Survival Rates in People of Color