Skin cancer affects people of all colors, including those with darker skin tones who always tan or rarely burn. What’s more, for people of color, it’s often diagnosed too late, making it harder to treat. This includes people of African, Asian, Latino, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Native American descent.
When skin cancer develops in people of color, it’s often in a late stage when diagnosed. This can be deadly when the person has melanoma, a type of skin cancer that can spread quickly. Treatment for any type of skin cancer can be difficult in the late stages.
Simply put, if you have skin, you can get skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma. Furthermore, ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can cause dangerous, lasting damage to your skin.
The most important thing to do is get to know your skin type, protect your skin from the sun, check yourself monthly and see a dermatologist once a year for a full body exam. No matter what, if you notice anything NEW, CHANGING or UNUSUAL on your skin, contact a dermatologist right away.
Skin of Color Stats
- Black patients with melanoma have an estimated five-year melanoma survival rate of 67 percent, versus 92 percent for whites.1
- Skin cancer represents 1 to 2 percent of all cancers in Blacks.2
- Skin cancer represents approximately 2 to 4 percent of all cancers in Asians.2
- Skin cancer represents 4 to 5 percent of all cancers in Hispanics.3
- Melanoma in people of color most often occurs on areas that get little sun exposure, with up to 60 to 75 percent of tumors arising on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and the nail areas. 2
- Black patients are more than three times as likely to be diagnosed with melanoma at a late stage than non-Hispanic white patients. 52 percent of non-Hispanic Black patients and 26 percent of Hispanic patients receive an initial diagnosis of advanced-stage melanoma, versus 16 percent of non-Hispanic white patients.4
- In nonwhites, the plantar portion of the foot is often the most common site of skin cancer, being involved in 30 to 40 percent of cases.3
- Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer in Blacks.2
- People of color have higher percentages of acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM, melanoma of the palms, soles and nailbeds) than Caucasians, whereas superficial spreading melanoma is the most frequent subtype in Caucasians and Hispanics.3
The good news is you can find skin cancer early. Found early, most skin cancers, including melanoma, can be cured.
There’s also a lot you can do to reduce your risk of getting skin cancer.
How people of color can reduce their skin cancer risk
Dermatologists in the United States tell their patients with skin of color to reduce their risk of getting skin cancer by doing the following:
- Seek shade whenever possible. The sun causes many skin cancers.
- Wear clothing that protects your skin from the sun. A wide-brimmed hat can shade your face and neck. You also want to wear shoes that cover the entire foot. African Americans often develop skin cancer on their feet.
- Wear sunscreen. Yes, people of color should wear sunscreen. Dermatologists recommend that people of color use sunscreen that has:
- Broad-spectrum protection
- SPF 30 or greater
- Water resistance
- Apply Sunscreen to dry skin 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. You want to apply sunscreen to skin that will be bare. Be sure to apply sunscreen every day — even on cloudy days.
- When outdoors, reapply sunscreen. You want to reapply:
- Every 2 hours
- After sweating or getting out of the water
- Never use tanning beds or sunlamps. These emit harmful UV rays, which can cause skin cancer.
- Cancer Facts and Figures 2021. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/annual-cancer-facts-and-figures/2021/cancer-facts-and-figures-2021.pdf.%20Accessed%20January%2013,%202021.
- Gloster HM, Neal K. Skin cancer in skin of color. J Am Acad Dermatol 2006; 55:741-60.
- Bradford, Porcia T. Skin Cancer in Skin of Color. Dermatol Nurs 2009 Jul-Aug; 21(4): 170-178.
- Hu S, Soza-Vento RM, Parker DF, et al. Comparison of stage at diagnosis of melanoma among Hispanic, black, and white patients in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Arch Dermatol 2006; 142(6):704-8.