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Melanoma Often Spotted Later Among Blacks, Hispanics

Posted: June 20, 2006

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In their study, the researchers looked at 1,690 melanoma cases reported in Miami-Dade County between 1997 and 2002. Among these, 1,176 occurred in white patients, 485 in Hispanic patients and 29 in non-Hispanic black patients. The population of whites and blacks in Miami-Dade County is approximately the same.

Compared with whites, the Hispanic and black patients were more likely to have advanced-stage melanomas. Sixteen percent of Hispanics and 31 percent of blacks had cancer that had metastasized -- spread to other organs or tissues -- compared with 9 percent of whites.

Moreover, 52 percent of black patients had regional or distant-stage melanoma, the most severe stages, compared with 26 percent of Hispanic and 16 percent of white patients.

Kirsner isn't sure why these differences exist. It's possible that blacks and Hispanics have a more aggressive type of melanoma, he speculated. "More likely, there is less awareness among patients and health-care providers that melanoma can occur in ethnic populations and patients with darker pigmentation," Kirsner said.

As a consequence, these patients aren't screened as often, and lesions are not detected as early as in the white population, Kirsner said. "So a diagnosis is delayed until a late stage and that correlates with worse survival," he said. "Patients' diagnoses with thin melanomas have nearly a 100 percent survival. However, if it has spread, then survival goes down to 16 percent. So survival is worse in Hispanics and blacks."