The appearance of skin cancer on people of color will vary depending on the type of skin cancer under discussion, since common varieties like melanoma, basal cell skin cancer, and squamous cell skin cancer all look different. Ultimately, the visual signs of skin cancer on darker skin tones are not too different from those that appear on white and lighter skin tones.
However, in people of color, skin cancer is more likely to appear in certain places where it is less common in those with white skin. Performing regular inspections and knowing where to look are of the utmost importance, and we’ll show you exactly what to look for.
Identifying Skin Cancer for People of Color
The most common visual signs of skin cancer—for all skin colors—include growths with uneven borders, growths that spread, bleed, or refuse to heal, rough patches of skin, and dark lines beneath your finger or toenails. These signs most accurately apply to melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Readers should also be familiar with the warning signs of basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, as well as other common skin cancers. Monthly self-inspections are recommended, and screenings are warranted in any situation where you’re concerned about a new or changing growth.
When identifying skin cancer, it is especially important to inspect the areas of the body that see less sun. Statistics show that in people with darker skin tones, up to 60 to 75 percent of tumors arise on mucus membranes, the palms, the soles of the feet, and the nail regions. In fact, the plantar region of the foot is the location of up to 30 to 40 percent of skin cancer cases across all nonwhite people.
A loss of skin pigment due to vitiligo is often most noticeable in patients with black or brown skin, but it can impact anyone. And it’s important to note that despite the links between skin cancer and lower levels of pigmentation, vitiligo does not appear to increase one’s risk for cancer.
Skin Cancer Rates: Black (and People of Color) vs. White
Rates of skin cancer are highest among people with white skin, but no one is immune. Skin cancer accounts for 35–45% of all abnormal tissue growths in people with white skin, but only around 1–2% of abnormal tissue growths among people with black skin. These rates hover around 2–4% for Asian people, and around 4–5% for people of non-white Hispanic people.
However, a lack of discussion around skin cancer on darker-toned skin has contributed to a situation where advanced, late-stage diagnoses are relatively more common among people of color:
- If you compare skin cancer rates for black vs. white skin, you’ll see that up to 52% of non-Hispanic black patients received an initial diagnosis of advanced, late-stage skin cancer.
- Compare that to the 16% of non-Hispanic white patients who received the same initial diagnosis.
- Rates for non-white Hispanic patients also reflect a disparity in care; these patients received an initial late-stage diagnosis roughly 26% of the time.
Due at least partly to these disparities, the five-year survival rate for melanoma is significantly lower among black people than it is among white people. We believe that everyone deserves great care, and great care starts when our readers know how to identify skin cancer on black skin or brown skin. If you see anything that looks abnormal on your own skin, don’t wait to schedule a skin cancer screening.
Consider Image-Guided SRT for Common Skin Cancer
If you receive a common skin cancer diagnosis, ask your doctor if Image-Guided Superficial Radiotherapy (Image-Guided SRT)is right for you. This non-surgical alternative to Mohs surgery may be able to treat your cancer. Find out how it works today.