• 2016-4-960

    What is a dermatologic surgeon?

    Part of a progressive medical subspecialty, ASDS member dermatologists perform medically necessary and cosmetic procedures to improve the health, function and beauty of skin through every stage of life.

  • 2016-3-960

    From forehead furrows to frown lines…

    Performing more than 5 million cosmetic procedures each year, ASDS member dermatologists offer many treatments that are less intense, safer and have quicker recovery times than ever before.

  • 2016-2-960

    3 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every year

    Any suspicious new growths or changes should be examined by a dermatologist immediately. ASDS member dermatologists are trained to select the best treatment choice based on the individual patient.

  • 2016-1-960

    From excess fat to wrinkles…

    Offering a range of office-based cosmetic procedures, ASDS member dermatologists can select the appropriate treatment choice to meet your individual goals.

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In This Section

Skin Cancer in People of Color


Important Links


General skin cancer facts

Anyone can get skin cancer no matter the color of their skin. Many people do not realize that people of color are also at risk for skin cancer. In fact, black reggae legend Bob Marley died at the age of 36 from melanoma skin cancer that had spread in his body.

Over the last 30 years, there have been more cases of skin cancer than all other types of cancer combined.It’s estimated that one in five Americans will have skin cancer during their lifetime.Each year in the U.S., nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer at a cost of about $8.1 billion. 

Skin cancer in people of color

While skin cancer is less common in people of color than in whites, it is still an important health concern. When skin cancer is diagnosed in people of color, it:

Skin Cancer is Color Blind Infographic (English)Often is more advanced.Tends to have worse outcomes.Is more likely to be fatal than in whites.

People of color may not be aware they can get skin cancer and may be less likely to get concerning areas on their skin checked by a dermatologist. If skin cancer is caught early, it is usually highly treatable.

There are different types of skin cancer, and members of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) are experts in all skin types and can provide you with more information. To find an ASDS member near you, click here

Types of skin cancer

The three most common forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. These skin cancers get their names from the type of cells that give rise to them.

Melanoma in a Hispanic person

Melanoma in a Hispanic person.


Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and arises from melanocytes, which provide the skin’s color. It spreads rapidly, so it’s important to treat it quickly. Approximately one American dies from melanoma every hour.

In white people, melanoma is linked to sun exposure. This does not appear to be a major factor in darker skinned individuals, as the majority of melanomas in people of color are found on non-sun-exposed skin such as the palms of the hands, the bottom of the feet, under the fingernails and toenails, in the mouth or in the groin/genitals. The bottom of the feet is the most common location in blacks and Asians. People of color are more likely to die from melanoma than whites.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
SCC/Bowen's Disease example

An example of SCC in a black person.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the most common form of skin cancer diagnosed in blacks and Asian Indians. It is the next most deadly form of skin cancer following melanoma and starts in the squamous cells in the upper layer of the skin.

Chronic scarring and inflammatory diseases such as lupus, hidradenitis suppurativa, burns, chronic ulcers and previous radiation increase the risk of developing SCC in people of color. Some forms of human papillomavirus (HPV) are also associated with SCC. In whites, SCC most often occurs in sun-exposed areas. People of color typically get SCC on sun-protected areas such as the legs, genitals or anus, though it can appear most anywhere on the skin. If left untreated, SCC can be fatal.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
BCC Example

Black person with BCC.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) arises from the basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis. BCC is the most common skin cancer in the U.S. in general.

Though rare, BCCs can occur in black skin. BCCs are the most common skin cancer in Hispanics and East Asians. BCCs very rarely spread and typically aren’t fatal, but if left untreated they can continue to grow and destroy the tissue around them. Like other forms of skin cancer, BCCs should be found and treated as soon as possible.

Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP)
DFSP example

Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans in a black person.

Although the most common skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, there are several other rare but still dangerous skin cancers. One of these is dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP). DFSP is more common in women than in men and is twice as likely to occur in blacks as in whites. DFSP has a worse prognosis in blacks and males, as well as when it occurs on the head, arms or legs.

How you can prevent and detect skin cancer

The Skin Cancer is Color Blind Newsletter includes prevention tips, such as:

  • Wear sun-protective clothing.
  • Seek out the shade.
  • Put on sunscreen.
  • Get Vitamin D through dietary sources or supplements.
  • Avoid tanning beds.
Dr. Arash Koochek

Dr. Arash Koochek providing skin cancer information at a skin cancer screening.
To find a free skin cancer screening, click here. To find an ASDS member near you, click here.

Because skin cancer may be painless or otherwise not bothersome, you may not notice it unless you look for it. ASDS encourages monthly self-exams and annual screenings to help prevent skin cancer and detect any unusual areas as early as possible. Many ASDS members offer free skin cancer screenings throughout the year.

Members of ASDS are experts in treating all skin types, and you can find a dermatologic surgeon near you to get checked. Always talk to a doctor if you have concerns about your skin. . If you have any new, growing or changing moles, growths or sores, or if you notice spots that are painful, itch, burn, bleed or are otherwise bothersome, have them checked by a dermatologist immediately.

The Skin Cancer is Color Blind educational campaign was developed as an ASDS Future Leaders Network project by Arash Koochek, MD, MPH. 

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