July 12, 2023 – Black men are more likely to die of melanoma, compared to men of other races with the disease, a new study shows.
Previous research has established that men are less likely than women to survive melanoma, and people of color are also less likely to survive the disease, compared to White people. In this latest study, even when the researchers controlled for Black men having lower rates of private insurance and more advanced-stage cancer at diagnosis, the higher risk of death persisted.
“This indicates that lower rates of private insurance and higher stages at diagnosis cannot fully explain the increased mortality risk for Black males with melanoma,” they wrote. “Education is a critical modifiable target for improving melanoma-related survival.”
The findings were published Tuesday in Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, and the authors wrote that they specifically focused on the role of race among men with melanoma. The study included data for 205,125 men diagnosed with cutaneous invasive melanoma between 2004 and 2018, of whom 97.6% were White, 1.5% were Hispanic, 0.5% were Black, 0.3% were Asian, and 0.1% were American Indian or Alaska Native.
The analysis showed that all men of color are more likely than White men to die of the disease. Among White men, 75% survived at least 5 years after diagnosis, while the 5-year survival rate was 69% for American Indian and Alaska Native men, 67% for Asian men, 66% for Hispanic men, and 52% for Black men.
“We know that men may be less likely to seek medical care than women, so they can be diagnosed with melanoma at later stages,” co-author and University of Nebraska dermatology professor Ashley Wysong, MD, said in a statement. “However, even after accounting for later stages at diagnosis, men still have worse survival rates than women with melanoma, so we suspect that there are some tumor-specific factors and potentially biological factors at play, such as hormones and the way the body responds to melanoma tumors.”
Melanoma is a cancer that starts in the cells that give skin a tan or brown color, and having darkly pigmented skin is linked to a lower risk of getting the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. About 97,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma annually, the Cancer Society says, and the lifetime risk of getting the disease is 1 in 38 for White people, 1 in 167 for Hispanic people, and 1 in 1,000 for Black people.
The new study showed that the most common location of the melanoma varied based on a person’s race. The most common site among Black, Hispanic, and Asian men was the lower extremity, which includes the body parts from the hips to the toes. The most common site of the cancer on White and American Indian or Alaska Native men was the trunk, which includes the chest, belly, pelvis, and back.
“Patients with darker skin tones are more likely to get melanomas in areas that are not sun-exposed, whereas patients with lighter skin tones are more likely to have melanomas on areas of the skin exposed to the sun,” Wysong said, noting that location can play a role in late-stage diagnoses. “Many patients have spots evaluated by dermatologists because somebody else has pointed out a spot to them. Melanoma in areas that do not have sun exposure can be more difficult for both patients and their loved ones to see, which can lead to a delayed diagnosis.”
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends doing a monthly skin self-exam using a full-length mirror. People of color particularly should check for dark spots that are growing, bleeding, or changing; sores that won’t heal or that heal and return; or a dark line underneath or around a fingernail or toenail.