Black Males Are More Likely to Die from Melanoma

By Steve Blanchard - July 25, 2023

New research published in the Journal of American Dermatology shows that Black men are more likely to die of melanoma than their lighter-skinned counterparts. While the cancer type is much more common in white individuals, Black men are 26% more likely to die from it, the study found.

“There are multiple reasons for this,” said Dr. Vernon Sondak, chair of the Cutaneous Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. “Skin cancer is less common in darkly skinned individuals, no matter their race. Skin cancer is relatively rare in Blacks overall so it doesn’t get the attention it should.”

Researchers analyzed more than 205,000 cases and discovered that melanoma in Black men is often found in areas that have not had a lot of sun exposure, including the soles of the feet, toes, toenails, fingernails, fingernail beds and palms.

That finding does not surprise Sondak, who shared that lighter-pigmented areas on dark-skinned people are at the most risk of melanoma and other skin cancers.

“We see those cancers in those lighter-pigmented areas rather than in other parts of the skin,” Sondak said. “We don’t see many regular skin cancers in African Americans, but we do see it concentrated mostly on the hands and feet.”

portrait of blockquote author

"We don’t see many regular skin cancers in African Americans, but we do see it concentrated mostly on the hands and feet."

- Dr. Vernon Sondak, Cutaneous Oncology Program

The research study found 51% of Black men with melanoma have it on their lower extremities. By comparison, only 10% of white men have melanoma on their lower extremities. About 13% of cases of Black men saw melanoma on the trunk and fewer than 10% of cases involving Black men showed melanoma on their head.

Black men are also typically diagnosed later, with nearly 49% diagnosed at late stages of the disease. Just over 21% of white men are diagnosed with late-stage disease, as are about 40% of Hispanic men, 38% of Asian men and 29% of Native American men, the study found.

That late-stage diagnosis directly impacts outcomes. More than 75% of white men live for five or more years after a melanoma diagnosis compared to just 52% of Black men, according to the study.

While Black men are at a higher risk of dying from melanoma, Sondak said there are things men can do to protect themselves and keep their skin healthy.

“An individual’s awareness is so important,” Sondak said. “Many Black men think they can’t get cancer or that their risk is so low that they don’t have to protect themselves. Many doctors also think that the risk is so low that it’s not worth discussing. But that’s not the case.”

Sondak recommends all people, regardless of race, stay out of the sun when the ultraviolet intensity is its greatest in the middle of the day and says wearing a full-brimmed hat, not just a baseball hat, is the best way to stay protected.

“You have to remember to protect your ears and neck,” he said. “And wear protective clothing to cover what you can and, of course, use sunscreen on those exposed areas like your hands and face.”

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