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Cancer Genetics

Do African Americans Suffer From Melanoma?

07/12/2000

Question:

Do African Americans suffer from melanoma or other forms of skin cancer caused by sun damage? What percentage of African Americans have melanoma? Is that percentage increasing or decreasing over the years?

Answer:

There are several types of skin cancer. UV radiation is the most important cause of skin cancers. Basal cell carcinoma accounts for 75-80% of all reported cases of skin cancer in whites; squamous cell carcinoma represents 20-25% of all reported skin cancer cases. Persons with fair skin who sunburn easily are more susceptible to developing basal cell carcinoma on sun-exposed areas of their skin. Basal cell carcinoma occurs less often in people of color. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer in people of color. The melanin pigment in the skin protects the skin from damage by the sun. Skin cancers are considered rare in dark-skinned persons, but African albinos have a high incidence of skin cancers on sun-exposed areas. [I was not able to find a specific figure for the incidence.] Malignant melanoma of the skin (MMS) is usually considered separately from other skin cancers. The incidence of MMS is increasing dramatically in persons with light-colored skin in all parts of the world. [Elwood JB, Koh HK. Etiology, epidemiology, risk factors, and public health issues of melanoma. Curr Opin Oncol 1994; 6:179.] The death rate for melanoma has doubled in the last 35 years with increases approximately 5% per year in the older white population. Worldwide, 40% of the cases occur in people of color but in the U.S. melanoma is largely a disease confined to the white population. Again, no specific figures could be found for African Americans. In Sweden, the incidence is approximately 12 cases per 100,000 people whereas in China the incidence is 0.8 cases per 100,000 people.

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Response by:

Judith A Westman, MD Judith A Westman, MD
Associate Professor, Clinical Internal Medicine, Pediatrics and Medical Biochemistry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University