Skin Cancer: Dispelling Myths in the Hispanic Community

There’s a prevailing myth that people with darker skin tones don’t get skin cancer. This troublesome misconception is especially prevalent in the Hispanic/Latino population where the topic of sun protection and skin cancer are not openly discussed.

The truth is that while people with light skin complexion carry the highest risk of skin cancer, people of color can develop skin cancer too. According to Miami Cancer Institute Chief of Melanoma Surgery Ramon Jimenez, M.D., anyone, regardless of skin color or heritage, can develop skin cancer, especially if exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning beds for an extended period of time.

“While we don’t know where this myth started or why it continues, we need to provide culturally relevant, medical information so we can dispel myths and arm people with facts that can help prevent skin cancer,” said Dr. Jimenez.

For Hispanics/Latinos, basal cell carcinoma is the most frequently diagnosed type of skin cancer. So what does skin cancer look like for those with dark skin? The most common sign is a change on the skin, like a new growth or lump, a sore that won’t heal, or an old growth that has changed in size or color.

Importantly, the way skin cancer presents in Hispanics can be different from how it presents in non-Hispanic whites. According to Dr. Jimenez, Hispanics are known to show a higher frequency of melanoma in non sun-exposed areas of the body such as the palms of the hand, the soles of the feet, the nail beds, inside the mouth or in the genitalia.

“Prevention and early detection are paramount for skin cancer survival,” said Dr. Jimenez. This is particularly relevant for the Hispanic population, in which melanoma tumors are often diagnosed at more advanced stages than in their Caucasian counterparts. “Delay in presentation and limited access to healthcare partially explain why melanoma mortality is higher for Hispanics when compared to non-Hispanic whites.”

Here’s what Dr. Jimenez recommends for skin cancer prevention:

1. Limit sun exposure, especially when the sun’s rays are strongest (usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.)
2. Apply sunscreen or wear sun-protective clothing if planning to go outdoors during peak sun hours.
3. Have any new or changing skin lesions quickly evaluated by a healthcare professional.
4. Avoid tanning beds.
5. Obtain full-body skin exams from your primary care provider or dermatologist once a year.

Ramon Jimenez, M.D., is an internationally recognized specialist in melanoma, the chief of Melanoma Surgery at Miami Cancer Institute. This team of nationally and internationally recognized experts are well-established in our community and collaborate with each other as well as across medical disciplines to provide personalized, compassionate, innovative treatments for each patient.

Miami Cancer Institute's internationally recognized skin cancer specialty and subspecialty team combines medical expertise, innovation and compassionate care, all under one roof and all conveniently located right here in South Florida.

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