Skin Cancer in Skin of Color

Porcia T. Bradford


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

In This Article


In general, skin cancer is uncommon in people of color when compared to Caucasians. When it does occur, it is often associated with increased morbidity and mortality. Differences in survival rates may be attributed to skin cancers being diagnosed at a more advanced stage, and socioeconomic factors such as lack of adequate insurance coverage and lack of transportation can function as barriers to timely diagnosis and early treatment. In addition to advanced stage at presentation, malignant skin lesions in skin of color often present in an atypical fashion. Because skin cancer prevention and screening practices historically have been lower among Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians, and given the changing demographics in the United States, interventions that are tailored to each of these groups will be needed. Public educational campaigns should be expanded to educate people of all skin types with emphasis on skin cancers occurring in areas not exposed to the sun (Byrd-Miles et al., 2007), since sunlight is not as important an etiologic factor in the pathogenesis of skin cancer in people of color. Dermatologists and primary care physicians should instruct their darker-skinned patients on how to perform routine skin self-examinations. Physicians should also encourage patients to ask their specialists such as their gynecologist, dentist, and ophthalmologist to look for abnormal pigmentation during routine exams.

To reduce the burden of skin cancer, several prevention methods for all people have been strongly encouraged, including monthly self-examinations, daily use of SPF 30 or greater sunscreen, sunglasses with UV-absorbing lenses, and avoiding tanning booths (American Cancer Society, 2008) (see Table 7). In addition, recommendations for clinicians to promote the prevention of skin cancer in skin of color have also been made, including closely monitoring changing pigmented lesions on the palms and soles and hyperkeratotic or poorly healing ulcers in immunosuppressed patients (Halder & Bridgeman-Shah, 1995) (see Table 7).


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