Skin Cancer Does Not Discriminate by Skin Tone

Posted on September 27, 2023 in Skin Cancer

Written by Dr. Mitro

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Each year, more than 5 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer1. Though many of these individuals are White, skin cancer does not discriminate by skin tone. Anyone can develop skin cancer, regardless of race or ethnicity.

To learn more about your risk of developing skin cancer, continue reading and download our free Skin Cancer eBook.

Skin Cancer Statistics by Ethnicity

It is true that White individuals are most at risk for developing skin cancer. This is, in part, because of melanin, the pigment responsible for the color of our skin, hair, and eyes.

Melanin provides some natural protection against the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Since people with lighter skin have less melanin, they are more vulnerable to UV damage.

However, as illustrated by the statistics below, people of color are not immune to skin cancer.

Black Individuals

Skin cancer is least prevalent among Black individuals, accounting for only 1 to 2 percent of all cancer cases2. The vast majority of these cases are squamous cell carcinoma, a cancer characterized by the abnormal, accelerated growth of squamous cells2.

A smaller percentage of skin cancer cases are melanoma. Among Black individuals, this aggressive disease frequently occurs in areas such as the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and nail regions2.

Because these parts of the body often go unnoticed, Black individuals are three times more likely than White patients to be diagnosed with late-stage melanoma3.

Delayed diagnosis can have grave implications. As noted by the American Cancer Society, Black melanoma patients have a 70 percent estimated five-year survival rate, compared to 94 percent for White patients4.

Lifetime Risk of Melanoma

Among Black individuals, the lifetime risk of developing melanoma is 1 in 1,0005.

Asian Individuals

Skin cancer accounts for around 2 to 4 percent of all cancer cases among Asian individuals2.

The prevalence of specific skin cancer types depends on the individual’s ethnicity. Basal cell carcinoma, for example, is most prevalent among Chinese and Japanese individuals, while squamous cell carcinoma is most prevalent among people of Indian descent6.

Asian individuals can also develop melanoma, typically in areas with limited sun exposure. Sadly, this aggressive cancer often goes unnoticed. As a result, Asians face a 27 percent increased risk of mortality when diagnosed with melanoma compared to non-Hispanic White patients7.

Lifetime Risk of Melanoma

Unfortunately, few studies have been conducted to determine the lifetime risk of melanoma among Asian individuals.

Hispanic Individuals

Skin cancer makes up 4 to 5 percent of all cancer cases among Hispanic individuals8. While 80 percent of these cases are basal cell carcinoma, melanoma is on the rise.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma incidence has risen by 20 percent among Hispanics in the past two decades and is projected to continue trending upwards9.

Researchers attribute the increased prevalence of melanoma among Hispanics to several factors, one being a lack of culturally-targeted skin cancer awareness campaigns.

Lack of medical insurance for cancer treatment is also a contributor. Nearly 20 percent of Hispanic individuals lack health insurance, compared to 10 percent of the general population9.

Lifetime Risk of Melanoma

Among Hispanic individuals, the lifetime risk of developing melanoma is 1 in 1675.

White Individuals

Skin cancer is most prevalent among White patients. According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma is 20 times more common in White people than in Black people5.

Luckily, melanoma among fairer-skinned patients typically occurs on more visible parts of the body like the trunk or lower legs. As a result, the disease is often detected at an earlier, more treatable stage.

White individuals are also prone to developing basal cell carcinoma. This cancer is caused by repeated exposure to UV rays from sunlight and artificial sources like tanning beds. It is commonly found on the head and neck.

Lifetime Risk of Melanoma

Among White individuals, the lifetime risk of developing melanoma is 1 in 385.

Skin Cancer Doesn't Discriminate by skin tone Infographic

Unique Characteristics and Commonalities

It is essential for individuals of all skin colors to be vigilant about skin health. However, skin cancer doesn’t always look the same for people of different races.

We discuss two melanoma subtypes below.

Acral Lentiginous Melanoma

Acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM) is a rare subtype of melanoma that develops in areas of the body with little or no sun exposure. These areas include the following:

  • Palms and Soles: People of color often develop skin cancer on the palms of their hands or the soles of their feet. The plantar region of the foot is the most common site, accounting for 30 to 40 percent of cases8.
  • Mucous Membranes: Melanoma can develop on mucous membranes, such as the inside of the mouth, the genital area, or the anus.
  • Nail Beds: Melanoma can also occur beneath the fingernails and toenails.

Other characteristics of ALM include:


ALM often begins as a dark spot or irregular patch of pigmented skin. It may be brown or black with shades of red or blue. Over time, the lesion can enlarge and change in color, shape, or texture.

Risk Factors

Unfortunately, the exact cause of ALM is not well understood. Unlike other types of melanoma, it is not strongly linked to UV exposure.

However, researchers have concluded that this cancer is most prevalent among people of color, accounting for 36 percent of all melanoma cases in Blacks, 18 percent in Asians and Pacific Islanders, 9 percent in Hispanics, and only 1 percent in Whites10.

Superficial Spreading Melanoma

Superficial spreading melanoma (SSM) is the most common subtype of melanoma, accounting for around 70 percent of all cases8.

SSM typically begins as a flat or slightly elevated lesion on the skin and tends to grow horizontally across the surface of the skin before it penetrates more deeply.

Other characteristics include:


SSM can occur anywhere on the body, including areas that are often exposed to the sun, such as the back, chest, legs, and face. However, it can also develop on areas of the body that receive less sun exposure.


In the early stages, SSM often presents as an irregularly shaped, asymmetric mole or pigmented lesion with varying shades of brown, black, or even pink or red. The lesion may have an irregular border.

Risk Factors

Like other forms of melanoma, exposure to UV radiation from the sun or artificial sources is a significant risk factor for SSM. SSM also tends to be most prevalent among Whites and Hispanics.

The Importance of Early Detection

In its initial stages, skin cancer is responsive to minimally invasive treatment modalities. With early detection and effective care, even melanoma has a five-year survival rate in the high 90 percentiles11.

However, when left undiagnosed, the disease can become incredibly difficult to treat. In some cases, it can metastasize to other organs and even cause death. That is why early detection is key.

Monthly self-examinations can help you identify changes in moles, pigmented areas, or other skin lesions. These examinations must be thorough. People of color should check areas that receive little sun, such as the palms, soles, nails, groin, and inside of the mouth.

If you notice any rashes or new bumps, schedule a skin examination with your dermatologist. Your dermatologist can conduct a skin biopsy to rule out the possibility of cancer.

Skin Cancer Warning Signs

  • Changes in the size, shape, color, or elevation of a mole
  • The appearance of a new mole or pigmented spot
  • Sores that continue to ooze, crust, or bleed
  • Persistent red or inflamed patches of skin
  • Moles or lesions that itch, tingle, or cause pain
  • Dark pigmented streaks in your nails
  • Sores or unusual spots inside the mouth or genitals

Prevention and Awareness

In addition to conducting monthly self-examinations, you should adopt healthy habitats to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. More specifically, you should:

  • Apply Sunscreen: Regardless of race, you should use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Apply the sunscreen to all exposed skin and reapply every two hours.
  • Seek Shade: When the sun is at its peak (typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.), try to stay in the shade whenever possible. Keeping an eye on the UV index and planning outdoor activities accordingly can also help.
  • Wear Protective Clothing: Whenever possible, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses.
  • Avoid Tanning Beds: Tanning beds emit harmful UV radiation and significantly increase the risk of skin cancer. Avoid them entirely.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water keeps your skin healthy and may reduce the risk of skin cancer. Other lifestyle choices, like avoiding cigarettes and eating well, can reduce your risk as well.

Schedule a Consultation with SERO

Receiving a skin cancer diagnosis can be daunting. However, it is important to remember that you are not alone in this journey. Knowledgeable of all types and stages of skin cancer, SERO’s team of board-certified radiation oncologists can walk you through a range of treatment options, one being radiation therapy for skin cancer.

Entirely painless and highly effective, radiation therapy uses state-of-the-art technology to target cancer cells while preserving healthy tissues. This degree of precision minimizes side effects of cancer treatment and optimizes your chances of a successful outcome.

To take a proactive step towards regaining your health and peace of mind, contact us to schedule a consultation at one of our cancer treatment centers.

Understand Your Skin Cancer Risk

Fair-skinned patients are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer. However, people of all skin tones can and do develop the disease. In fact, skin cancer can be more dangerous for people of color because it is often diagnosed at a more advanced stage, making treatment more difficult.

Because of this, it is important for people of all ethnic backgrounds to practice sun safety measures, such as applying sunscreen and avoiding tanning beds. Monthly self-examinations are also an essential step in early detection.If an irregular mole or lesion does prove to be cancerous, SERO is here to provide cutting-edge cancer treatment. To meet with a radiation oncologist in the greater Charlotte area, contact us today.