Although patients with skin of color are less likely to develop melanoma than caucasian patients, they have a higher rate of mortality from the disease, new research shows. Writing in the Jounral of the American Academy of Dermatology, Jeremy S. Bordeaux, MD, MPH, FAAD and colleagues reveal that African-American patients had the worst overall survival rate, and they were also the group most likely to be diagnosed with melanoma in its later stages, when the disease is more difficult to treat. Timing of the diagnosis is not the only factor that affects this group’s survival rates. African-American patients had the worst prognosis for every stage of melanoma.
Dr. Bordeaux explained in a statement that these differences in survival rates may be due to disparities in the timeliness of melanoma detection and treatment among different races; for example, patients with skin of color may not seek medical attention for irregular spots on their skin because they don’t believe these lesions pose a risk. Additionally, he says, there may be biologic differences in melanoma among patients with skin of color, resulting in more aggressive disease in these patients. More research is necessary to determine why survival rates differ among different ethnic groups, he says, but in the meantime, patients of with skin of color should be aware of their skin cancer risk.
For the study, researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland utilized the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results database to study nearly 97,000 patients diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, from 1992 to 2009. Although Caucasian patients had the highest melanoma incidence rate, they also had the best overall survival rate, followed by Hispanic patients and patients in the Asian American/Native American/Pacific Islander group.
“Because skin cancer can affect anyone, everyone should be proactive about skin cancer prevention and detection,” Dr. Bordeaux said in his statement. “Don’t let this potentially deadly disease sneak up on you because you don’t think it can happen to you…Skin cancer is most treatable when detected early, so everyone should regularly examine their skin for new or suspicious spots.”