NEW YORK (Reuters Health) — Black and
Hispanic people and other minorities tend to know less about skin
cancer than whites, a new study suggests.
"Our findings emphasize the need for improved
patient education about characteristics of melanoma, regardless of
race," researchers led by Dorota Z. Korta, of the NYU Langone
Medical Center in New York, wrote.
People of all races are equally at risk of getting skin cancer on
the palms of their hands or soles of their feet — but those aren't
common places for sun exposure, said Dr. Darrell Rigel.
He is a former president of the American Academy of Dermatology and
a dermatology professor at New York University, but wasn't involved
in the new study.
"For other parts of the body, the chances are much less (among
minorities), but you can still get it," Rigel told Reuters Health.
African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities with darker skin
than whites "are less likely to realize that they're at risk for
skin cancer," he said.
Between one and five Hispanic, black and Asian people out of every
100,000 are diagnosed with melanoma each year. That compares to 20
out of every 100,000 white women and 32 per 100,000 white men.
But research shows minorities with skin cancer tend to be diagnosed
at a more advanced stage and have lower chances of survival than
For their study, Korta and her colleagues surveyed 152 people who
visited a dermatology clinic at a New York City public hospital.
Many survey respondents were unaware of the warning signs of skin
cancer, such as the ABCDEs: asymmetry (A), border (B), color (C),
diameter (D) and evolving (E) nature of a mole or other skin mark.
Awareness was especially low among minorities.
For instance, half of white respondents answered correctly that an
asymmetrical shape is characteristic of melanoma, compared to 12
percent of minorities. Most others responded "don't know."
Similarly, 71 percent of white survey respondents correctly
identified changes in the size or shape of moles over time as
characteristic of melanoma, compared to 29 percent of minority
"Our study significantly adds to the field by defining clear gaps in
patient knowledge about melanoma characteristics (ABCDE criteria)
here in the United States," the authors wrote.
Survey respondents were also asked about their beliefs regarding
the purpose of skin cancer screening, and the majority of them — whites and minorities alike — incorrectly stated that skin cancer
screenings help prevent the disease. Most correctly responded that
skin cancer screenings reduce the risk of death from skin cancer.
Eight percent of the clinic visitors had been diagnosed with skin
cancer in the past, according to findings published in the Journal
of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Of all the participants, 16 percent had undergone a total body skin
examination by a doctor to check for skin cancer. Fifteen percent
said they performed self-exams for skin cancer but only 11 percent
had ever been taught by a health care practitioner how to look for
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force currently says there isn't
enough evidence on the potential benefits and harms of skin cancer
screening to recommend adults get screened.
Still, people can take steps to decrease their exposure to harmful
sun rays and lower their risk of skin cancer, according to Rigel.
"Protecting yourself from the sun lowers your risk significantly,"
he said. He recommended both avoiding the mid-afternoon sun's
penetrating rays and using sunscreen, hats and other protective
And, Rigel added, "If you have something growing, bleeding, crusting
or changing on your skin, see your dermatologist."
Source: Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, online
Dec. 10, 2013.