Darker skin susceptible to skin cancer

Massage therapists are in a unique position to help educate their black and Hispanic clients about a little-known but very real risk of life-threatening skin cancer among people with darker skin pigmentation.

In a recent study published in the July issue of the Archives of Dermatology, researchers from the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine found that black and Hispanic patients, while at less risk of melanoma than whites, tend to present with more advanced stages of the disease and are much more likely to die from it. Hispanics were nearly twice as likely as whites to have advanced melanoma when diagnosed; blacks more than three times as likely.

“We found that there are more late-stage diagnoses in minorities,” says study author Robert Kirsner, M.D., Ph.D., in a press release. “Our hypothesis is that this is due to a lack of screening and a lack of awareness.”

“Ethnic minorities, who are often darker-skinned individuals, think it’s almost impossible for them to get skin cancer, especially melanoma,” adds Shasa Hu, M.D., who co-authored the study.

Many black and Hispanic patients don’t regularly perform self-screening to check for moles that are asymmetrical or that change over time, researchers say. Yet when detected early, melanoma responds well to treatment; the five-year survival rate is 98 percent. However, when the disease goes undetected and metastasizes, the survival rate drops to 16 percent, the press release states.

About 60,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma annually, and nearly 8,000 die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. It is also becoming more common, with incidence rates rising 2.4 percent each year, and with the highest rates in California and Florida.

Public-awareness campaigns about the dangers of melanoma and the importance of self-screening have improved survival rates among whites diagnosed with melanoma from 68 to 92 percent over the past 30 years. The study’s authors hope that these latest findings sound a clarion call to darker-skinned people, to both take greater precautions to reduce their risk of contracting melanoma and to be more vigilant about checking their skin and getting regular screenings.

And that’s where massage therapists can help. If you notice any suspicious moles or skin discoloration on clients, let them know immediately and suggest they contact their physician. It could save a life.