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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

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Melanoma Risk Not Just for Whites

Later Melanoma Diagnosis More Common in Blacks, Hispanics Than Whites
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 19, 2006 -- MelanomaMelanomaskin cancerskin cancer is most common among whites, but it's also a threat for people of other races.

A study in the Archives of Dermatology drives that point home. The study details 1,690 melanoma cases in Florida's Miami-Dade County from 1997-2002.

Whites made up the vast majority of those cases (almost 70%). Hispanics accounted for another 485 cases (nearly 29%). The other cases were black (almost 2%).

However, blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites to be diagnosed with melanoma that had spread beyond the skin. Nine percent of whites had melanoma that had spread beyond the skin, compared with 16% of Hispanics and 31% of blacks, the study shows.

Data came from Florida's cancercancer database, which includes all hospitals, doctors, and clinics in the state. The researchers included Shasa Hu, MD, of the dermatology and cutaneous (skin) surgery department at the University of Miami's medical school.

Awareness Gap?

Most scientific studies and public health efforts about melanoma have focused on whites, write Hu and colleagues. They recommend boosting melanoma awareness in nonwhite racial and ethnic groups to encourage early melanoma detection.

Like many other cancers and diseases, the odds of survival are best when melanoma is detected in its early stages. Hu's data only cover melanoma diagnosis, not survival.

Melanoma survival rose from 68% in the early 1970s to 92% in recent years for whites. "Such advances, however," write Hu and colleagues, "have not occurred in other segments of the population."

Access to medical care may have been an issue for some people, the researchers note.

What to Do

Skin color can vary widely within races. In general, lighter skin that burnsburns easily is at highest risk of melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer. But as Hu's study shows, melanoma isn't just for the palest people.

While everyone should check their skin for suspicious changes such as irregularly shaped molesmoles, it can be hard to spot such changes, especially in darker skin. Doctors can do skin exams as part of a routine checkup.

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