Melanoma in African Americans

Although skin cancer has a lower incidence in patients of color, it can occur. The most common type of skin cancer varies based on your ethnic background, with African Americans being most at risk for squamous cell carcinoma. However while melanoma is often associated with people who have blue eyes and blonde hair, it also occurs in people with darker skin tones.

For reasons that are unclear, melanomas in African Americans most commonly develop on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and nails. Unfortunately, when these melanomas are discovered they are more aggressive at the time of presentation. The overall five-year melanoma survival rate for African Americans is only 77 percent, versus 91 percent for Caucasians.

Top Melanoma Prevention Tips

For all these reasons, it is important for African Americans to stay vigilant about preventing skin cancer by following prevention measures such as the following:

  • Receive regular skin checks and make sure that the hands and feet are examined.
  • Protect yourself from the sun. This is one of the most important ways to prevent melanoma. It is key to avoid sun exposure during the times of the day where the sun is the highest and you are receiving the greatest amount of UV-rays, generally between 10 am and 3 pm. Wearing a good broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least an SPF of 30 is the second layer of protection.
  • Know your family history. If you have a first-degree relative who has had a melanoma, this increases your risk for melanoma.


Angela Lamb, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Dermatology and is currently the Director of the Westside Dermatology Faculty Practice at Mount Sinai. She treats a broad spectrum of skin disease including cancer, pigmentation problems, and acne. Advanced melanoma and skin cancer treatments are also provided by Mount Sinai’s Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center.

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