It’s a common misconception that people of color are not at risk for skin cancer.
General skin cancer facts
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 Caucasians, it is still an important health concern. Because it is sometimes overlooked, when skin cancer is diagnosed in people of color, it:
- Often is more advanced.
- Tends to have worse outcomes.
- Is more likely to be fatal than in Caucasians.
People of color may not be aware they can get skin cancer. They may be less likely to get their skin checked by a dermatologist before skin cancer has progressed. If skin cancer is caught early, it is usually highly treatable.
There are several different types of skin cancer and members of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) are experts in all skin types. Find an ASDS member near you.
Types of skin cancer
Skin cancers get their names from the type of skin cells they affect. The three most common forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and arises from the pigment producing cells called melanocytes. Basal cell carcinoma affects basal cells and squamous cell carcinoma arises from squamous cells. In 2012, more than 5.4 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancers were treated in the U.S.
Melanoma is typically the most serious form of skin cancer. Approximatelyone American dies from melanoma every hour. It’s estimated that there will be more than 76,000 new cases and 10,000 deaths from melanoma in the U.S. this year alone. There were more than 67,000 new cases and 9,000 deaths from melanoma in 2012. Melanoma spreads rapidly, so it’s important to treat it quickly.
In Caucasians, melanoma is linked to sun exposure. But sun exposure doesn’t appear to be a major factor for people with darker skin, and the majority of melanomas in people of color are found on non-sun-exposed skin, including 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 for skin cancer in people of color and Asians.
Because they are less likely to see a doctor about skin cancer concerns, people of color are more likely to die from melanoma than Caucasians.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the most common form of skin cancer diagnosed in people of color and Asian Indians. It 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) also are associated with SCC.
In Caucasians, SCC most often occurs in sun-exposed areas. People of color typically get SCC on sun-protected areas such as the legs, genitals and anus, though it can appear almost anywhere on the skin. If left untreated, SCC can be fatal. After melanoma, SCC is the next most deadly form of skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) affects the basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the skin. BCC is the most common skin cancer in the U.S. and is the most common skin cancer in Hispanics and East Asians.
Though rare, BCCs can occur on people of color. 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)
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 people of color than in Caucasians. DFSP has a worse prognosis in blacks and when it occurs on the head, arms or legs.
How to 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.
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 spot any new, growing or changing moles, growths or sores, or if you notice spots that are painful, itch, burn or bleed, have them checked by a dermatologist immediately.