Skin Cancer More Deadly in Dark-Skinned People

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Dark-skinned people, commonly thought to be “immune” to most forms of skin cancer, are more likely than whites to die from skin cancer and its related complications, according to University of Cincinnati researchers.

Dr. Hugh Gloster, associate professor of dermatology, said it is true that darker skinned people including blacks, Asians, Hispanics and Indians develop fewer nonmelanoma skin cancers than whites.

But when they do get skin cancer, it typically is more aggressive and is diagnosed at a later stages which leads to disproportionately more deaths, Gloster reported at the summer meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in San Diego.

“There’s a perception that people with darker skin don’t have to worry about skin cancer, but that’s not true,” said Gloster. “Minorities do get skin cancer, and because of this false perception most cases aren’t diagnosed until they are more advanced and difficult to treat.”

“Unfortunately, that translates into higher mortality rates,” he said.

Gloster and fellow researchers conducted a retrospective review of clinical data collected over the last 50 years by medical centers across North America, Asia and Africa to determine which epidemiologic and medical features of skin cancer are unique to dark skin.

They determined that rates of basal and squamous cell carcinomas and melanomas among whites have increased between 5 and 8 percent, while rates among blacks for the same period remained relatively constant.

But the researchers found that blacks were 8.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma — which occurs in the upper layers of the skin and is the second most common type of skin cancer — on areas protected from to the sun,

“We need to increase public awareness of skin cancer among ethnic minorities if we’re going to decrease skin cancer-related deaths,” said Gloster. “Prevention is key to fighting this disease.”

Source: Medical Week staff, week of July 27, 2006

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