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Why People of Color Are More Likely to Die from Skin Cancer

Posted on: November 13th, 2023 by Dr. Christopher Crosby

Skin cancer is more likely to affect people with fair complexions. So why is it that people of color with skin cancer are so likely to die from it? The doctors at Grossmont Dermatology Medical Clinic in La Mesa, CA are pretty sure they know what’s responsible: delayed diagnosis. Read on to learn more about the problem and what you can do to protect yourself.

What Research Tells Us

In study after study, the data leads medical professionals to an alarming conclusion: people of color  with melanoma are more likely to die from it than their white counterparts.

Most recently, the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology published a study that looked at melanoma survival rates of 200,000 patients. Seventy-five percent of white men survived melanoma, compared to 68% of Asian men, 66% of Hispanic men, and 52% of black men.

Although this new study focused on men, women of color with skin cancer are more likely to die from it than white women.

Reasons for this Unfortunate Racial Disparity

Our team of dermatologists can point to a few theories that could explain why people with darker skin tones are more likely to die from melanoma.

Because white people are far more likely to develop skin cancer, many people of color incorrectly believe that they cannot get skin cancer, which may stop them from seeking a screening from a doctor. People of color are also far more likely to develop melanoma in areas that are traditionally protected from sun (beneath clothing) whereas white people usually get melanoma in sun-exposed areas like the face and arms. This can also affect diagnosis.

The bottom line is that surviving melanoma usually comes down to early diagnosis. Since people of color are likely to get diagnosed months or even years later than the average white patient, the delay in treatment is the main explanation for a higher mortality rate. 

How to Solve This Problem

Educating the public is the first step. People who know they can get and die of skin cancer may be more motivated to seek attention from a dermatologist. 

Moreover, some in the medical field need to get better about diagnosing people of color correctly. Doctors who were trained with and continue to treat a mainly white population may not be experienced enough at spotting signs of melanoma on a person of color because they may be less obvious.

Fortunately, Grossmont Dermatology has always served patients of diverse backgrounds. We are accustomed to screening patients of all races for skin cancer, and we are proud to say we have many doctors of color on our team who have successfully diagnosed melanoma early on patients with darker complexions.

To schedule an appointment with our experts, please call (619) 462-1670 today.

Coastal Skin & Eye Institute/Grossmont Dermatology