African Americans More Likely to Die from Melanoma than Caucasians

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate

It has been known for some time that while the incidence of skin cancer for African Americans is rare, it still happens.
And when it does happen it is more deadly for this population than for Caucasians.
Add to this, a new study which shows that there is a disparity in the stage of melanoma diagnosis between Hispanic and black patients vs. white patients. According to a report in the December 2009 issue of Archives of Dermatology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals, Hispanic and African American patients are routinely diagnosed with skin cancer at more advanced stages than whites.

Why is this so?

It seems that so much effort and attention has been given towards educating Caucasians about skin cancer that there has been little done to warn African Americans and darker skinned populations that skin cancer can also happen to them.

The authors of this report entitled, "Disparity in Melanoma: A Trend Analysis of Melanoma Incidence and Stage at Diagnosis Among Whites, Hispanics, and Blacks in Florida" state that:

"The lowest survival rates and delayed melanoma diagnosis is often seen in blacks. With the readily expanding population and increasing melanoma rate of 2.9 percent per year, melanoma among Hispanics also becomes an increasingly important public health issue."

So clearly there is a need for more education about skin cancer directed at these populations.

Here are some more facts about skin cancer among non-white populations:

  • The overall melanoma survival rate for African Americans is only 77 percent compared to 91 percent for Caucasians.

  • While melanoma is uncommon in African Americans, Latinos, and Asians, it is frequently fatal for these populations.

  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the most common skin cancer among African Americans.

  • Among non-Caucasians, melanoma is a higher risk for children than adults: 6.5 percent of pediatric melanomas occur in non-Caucasians.

In addition gives advice for African Americans about skin cancer:
"...although melanoma is much less common in African Americans than in whites, when it does occur in African Americans it is particularly deadly. This disease usually begins as an abnormal mole. In whites, melanomas often develop on the trunk and legs, but in African Americans, melanomas are most often found under the nails, on the palms of hands, and on the soles of the feet."

What can be done to prevent skin cancer in the African American population?

Education is the key.
Know that just because you have dark skin does not mean you are immune to skin cancers.
It is important to check your skin for any changes including:

  • A change in color or size of any moles.

  • Any sore that doesn't heal.

  • Itchiness, tenderness or skin pain

  • Moles that are scaley or bleed

  • The appearance of a new mole, growth or bump

  • Redness or swelling of a mole or growth beyond its border

For more information about how to detect the warning signs of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell cancer, and/or melanoma please visit Health Central's Skin Cancer information page.

Lastly, here is some advice given by John McCann, a columnist for the Herald-Sun, in Durham, North Carolina, in a 2006 NPR interview:

"So what happens is black people often don't even think to look for the telltale signs of skin cancer, like large and irregular moles, and by the time something is detected it's too late. Now, one of the ways to prevent skin cancer is by using sunscreen with a sun protection factor, or SPF rating of 15 or higher."

This is good advice indeed.
The best way to not get skin cancer is to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Even if you are dark skinned it is recommended that you use sunscreen and also check your skin periodically for any changes.
See your doctor or dermatologist early on if you find any suspicious moles or growths.
It is better to be safe than sorry.


Shasa Hu; Yisrael Parmet; Glenn Allen; Dorothy F. Parker; Fangchao Ma; Panta Rouhani; Robert S. Kirsner. Disparity in Melanoma: A Trend Analysis of Melanoma Incidence and Stage at Diagnosis Among Whites, Hispanics, and Blacks in Florida. Arch Dermatol, 2009; 145 (12): 1369-1374 [link]

Anne Windermere
Meet Our Writer
Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."