Skin Cancer Facts For Latinos: Melanoma Rates Rising, Survival Outcomes Poorer [EXPERT INTERVIEW]

Hispanics at risk of skin cancer due to lack of awareness and poorer diagnosis.
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Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States--more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined--and it doesn't discriminate in age, gender, or race. While most people are aware of the damaging side effects of the sun, many ethnic minorities are misinformed about whether or not they are at risk.

Hispanics, in particular, are one such subgroup that carries the misconception that they are immune to the damaging effects of the sunrays. Contrary to popular belief, Hispanics are not resistant to skin cancer and some studies have even found an increase in melanoma among Hispanics. One study in particular found that the incidence of melanoma in the Hispanic community has increased by 19 percent from 1992 to 2008.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three Hispanics have reported getting a sunburn in the past year. What's the big deal? Sunburns play as a risk factor for melanoma. Even more troublesome is a 2011 survey that found that 7.6 percent of Hispanic high school students (9.6 percent female and 5.7 percent male) reported that they engage in indoor tanning--which has been linked with various forms of skin cancer.

"Rates of melanoma and other skin cancers are low among Hispanics, but may be increasing," says Meg Watson, MPH, an epidemiologist in the CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, exclusively to Latin Times.

Research has shown that once diagnosed with melanoma, Hispanics have poorer survival outcomes than their non-Hispanic white peers. The reason being is that Hispanics are often diagnosed at a later stage. Scientists believe that a late diagnosis is a direct result of less access to care, less awareness of skin cancer, or a combination of both factors.

In fact, a 2013 study conducted by researchers at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ) concludes that there is a lack of skin cancer prevention interventions targeting the Hispanic community. The study, published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, found that more research needs to be conducted to customize interventions amongst the community and more efforts need to be made emphasizing public health education.

"The goal of this study was to examine factors associated with skin cancer-related behaviors among U.S. Hispanics," shares lead researcher Dr. Elliot Coups, a behavioral scientist at CINJ and associate professor of medicine at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. "The study focused in particular on linguistic acculturation, which we measured by asking participants to indicate their preference and ability for communicating in English and Spanish. We found that, compared to Spanish-speaking Hispanics, English-acculturated Hispanics reported greater engagement in skin cancer risk behaviors (such as sunbathing and indoor tanning) and were less likely to engage in protective behaviors such as seeking shade and wearing protective clothing."

Dr. Coups shares that just over 43 percent of the 788 Hispanic adult participants in the study reported rarely or never using sunscreen. Other findings include the fact that men reported using sunscreen and seeking shade less often than women, but men were more likely to wear clothing that protects their skin from the sun.

The rising incidence of melanoma in the Hispanic population coupled with the lack of interventions targeting the population, it is clear that Hispanics are at risk and need to take preventative measures.

"Many of these cancers can be avoided by avoiding UV rays," advises Watson. "To reduce risk of skin cancer, seek shade, wear clothing that protects exposed skin, choose wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses that provide as much UV protection as possible, use sunscreen with SPF of at least 15 and UVA and UVB protection, and avoid indoor tanning."

With Skin Cancer Awareness Month ending, it is important to note that there is no wrong month or time to take extra measures against skin cancer. For more information regarding skin cancer visit The National Cancer Insitute to learn how to protect yourself from skin cancer--this resource is also available in Spanish.

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