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Skin Cancer Rare-But More Deadly-in People with Darker Skin


Research from the University of Cincinnati indicates people of color die from skin cancers more frequently than whites. Dr. Hugh Gloster reviewed data collected for the past 50 years from medical centers around the world. He found that some features of different skin cancers, such as melanoma, are unique to dark-skinned people. "Melanomas in people of color almost always arise on the sole of the foot," he says. "Other unusual areas would be under the nails and on the palms. And also in the mouth."

In general, skin cancers occur less frequently in Blacks, Hispanics and Asians, but when they do occur, they are more often fatal than they are for whites. Gloster says many dark-skinned people mistakenly believe their skin color protects them from the sun… and therefore from skin cancer. "What can fool you is the skin cancers -- at least two of the three most common types -- appear to not really be sun-related, and the reason we know that is that they occur in non-sun-exposed sites primarily," he explains.

Because of those erroneous beliefs, Gloster says, people of color don't immediately seek out medical attention when they notice changes on their skin, and this contributes to the high death rate for blacks from skin cancer.

"We need to maintain a high index of suspicion for skin cancer in skin of color," he says. He urges patients "to seek regular full skin exams and also examine themselves, paying particular attention to those areas that we commonly don't consider skin cancers would occur, such as palms, soles, fingers, toes, under the nails and mucosal surfaces like in the mouth and genitalia." And, he says, everyone should consult a doctor if they notice any changes on their skin.

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