Hispanics are more likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer at later stages than other Americans, when it’s more likely to be fatal - but this fact is often overshadowed by the misconception that people with darker skin are immune to skin cancer.
While the lifetime risk for melanoma diagnosis is just 0.5% for Hispanics, 26% of Latinos with melanoma are not diagnosed until the cancer has progressed to late stages, compared to 16% of white patients. This serves as a reminder that everyone, no matter their skin tone, should practice sun safety.
We recently had a black patient with a mole who was concerned about it - but her trainee provider assumed it would be fine, given their skin tone.. Dermatologists need to be able to keep an eye out and not let their guard down. In this situation, the trainee’s first intuitive thought was that because the patient was dark-skinned, they were low risk. This isn’t just a small mistake - qualified dermatologists have made such assumptions before. Once we intervened, however, we took the mole off.
Research has found that the reason Hispanic people are at risk isn’t because they don’t realize they need to protect themselves from the sun. In fact, it’s the opposite: as Hispanic people assimilate to mainstream U.S. culture, they’re more likely to put themselves at risk with behaviors including using less sunscreen and sun-protective clothing.
Lastly, add this to the fact that most public health campaigns connect the risk of skin cancer to skin tone, it’s no surprise that many Hispanics don’t think they need to worry. Dermatologists must be vigilant and careful not to let such assumptions cloud their judgment. They should take dark-skinned patients’ concerns just as seriously as someone fair, and they should make a greater effort to warn their Hispanic patients of their risk for skin cancer.