Skin Cancer in Skin of Color

Porcia T. Bradford


Dermatology Nursing. 2009;21(4):170-77; 206. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Skin cancers in skin of color often present atypically or with advanced stage in comparison to Caucasian patients. Health care providers must maintain a high index of suspicion when examining skin lesions in skin of color.

This continuing nursing educational (CNE) activity is designed for nurses and other health care providers who care for and educate patients and their families about skin cancer in skin of color. For those wishing to obtain contact hour credit, an evaluation follows. After studying the information presented in this article, the nurse will be able to:
1. Discuss the incidence of skin cancer in skin of color.
2. Identify the features of basal and squamous cell cancers in skin of color.
3. Describe the occurrence of melanoma in skin of color.
4. Define the characteristics of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma and Kaposi sarcoma in skin of color.


Skin cancer is the most common malignancy in the United States and represents approximately 35% to 45% of all neoplasms in Caucasians (Ridky, 2007), 4% to 5% in Hispanics, 2% to 4% in Asians, and 1% to 2% in Blacks (Gloster & Neal, 2006; Halder & Bridgeman-Shah, 1995). The incidence of skin cancer has been increasing among Caucasians (Ridky, 2007), but remains relatively low in people of color. Data have been limited for non-White populations, making accurate determination of incidence and mortality difficult.

The low incidence of skin cancers in darker-skinned groups is primarily a result of photo-protection provided by increased epidermal melanin, which filters twice as much ultraviolet (UV) radiation as does that in the epidermis of Caucasians (Montagna & Carlisle, 1991). The larger, more melanized melanosomes of darker-skinned groups absorb and scatter more energy than do the smaller melanosomes of Caucasians (Brenner & Hearing, 2008). Hence, UV radiation, the most important predisposing factor for skin cancer in Caucasians, plays a lesser role in people of color.

When skin cancer occurs in people of color, patients often present with an advanced stage, and thus, worse prognosis in comparison to Caucasian patients (Cormier et al., 2006; Hu, Sora-Vento, Parker, & Kirsner, 2006). Furthermore, certain types of skin cancer, such as dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, predominate in people of color (Halder & Bridgeman-Shah, 1995). The anatomic distribution may or may not be different from that seen in Caucasians, depending on the specific type of skin cancer. Treatment is generally the same among all racial groups.

Predictions estimate that by the year 2050, Hispanics, Asians, and Blacks will represent approximately 50% of the U.S. population (Gloster & Neal, 2006; U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, 2000). Hence, given the often atypical clinical presentation, the difficulty in detecting certain features such as color variegation in dark skin, and pigmentation of some skin cancers that are usually not pigmented in Caucasians, a high degree of suspicion must be maintained by physicians and other health care providers when examining skin lesions in people of color (Halder & Bridgeman-Shah, 1995). In this review, the differences in risk factors, clinical presentation, and mortality associated with skin cancers in Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics compared to Caucasians will be discussed. Forms of skin cancers that can present atypically in skin of color will be included and consist of basal cell cancer, squamous cell cancer, melanoma, cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, Kaposi sarcoma, and dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.