By Cara Kenefick
The rate of Latinos diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is higher than any other minority group, according to a 2011 cancer research study. In the past two decades, researchers found that the incidence of melanoma in Latinos has increased approximately three percent.
Based on case data from between 2004-2010, the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) found that the rate of incidence in Hispanic men was 4.7 per 100,000 and 4.4 per 100,000 in women. The figures were significantly higher than black men and women, with rates of 1.1 and 1.0, respectively. Following close behind Hispanics were the American Indian/Alaska Native demographic, with rates of 4.1 for men and 3.5 for women.
In Connecticut, the rate of melanoma diagnoses from 2001-2005 were 31 percent higher than the national average, according to Center for Disease Control figures from 2009. In 2008, approximately 1,060 state residents were diagnosed with melanoma.
New London County Latinos may be at the highest risk for melanoma, which had the highest rate of melanoma diagnoses in the state, at 79 percent above the national average.
According to Dr. Ramon Jimenez, a surgical oncologist at Hartford Hospital, he has seen the incidence of melanoma overall rise in his patients. The more disturbing trend is that Hispanics who come in with melanoma are more likely to be diagnosed with later stage presentations because they do not believe they are at risk for skin cancer, he said.
“Latinos and African-Americans feel they’re not at risk for melanoma, so by the time they realize it, it’s in advanced stages and has gone into the lymph nodes and other organs,” he explained. “Once you have melanoma in other organs. . . the prognosis is very, very bad.”
National Cancer Institute survey data showed that Latinos who were exposed to health discussions and awareness were more likely to get checked regularly and report earlier signs of cancer.
Jimenez said that although people with darker skin are biologically adapted to prolonged sun exposure and thus at a lesser risk for melanoma than their fair-skinned peers, protection and prevention is always essential.
“Everyone is at risk for melanoma. We, as colored people, are better adapted to sunny environments, yes that helps, but we’re still at risk,” he said. “Sun protection applies to everybody.”
Jimenez advised Latinos to protect themselves from harmful UV rays by applying adequate sunscreen – at least 30 SPF – and paying attention to any changing moles. He warned that any moles or lesions that begin to grow, develop irregular borders, scab or bleed, should be checked by a doctor immediately.
Additional ways to prevent skin cancer and melanoma, according to the CDC, is to seek shade during midday hours, wear clothing to protect skin from sun exposure, avoid sun burns, avoid indoor tanning, wear sunglasses with UV protection and wear hats to protect the face, head ears and neck.
The hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. during daylight savings time are when Latinos are most at risk for UV exposure, the CDC reported.