Are Latinos less likely to develop skin cancer? Facts and myths

Cases of melanoma and other skin cancer types among Hispanics in the U.S. are on the rise, according to Integrative Medicine expert, Dr. Joseph Mosquera.  

According to a 2015 report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the rate of new melanoma cases has doubled from 1982 to 2011.  The CDC reports more than 9,000 people in the U.S. die of melanoma each year, and Hispanics unfortunately are no exception to these statistics.

Are Hispanics Immune to Skin Cancer?

Hispanics, in particular, are one subgroup that carries the misconception that they are immune to the detrimental effects of the sun rays.

Hispanics are not defiant to skin cancer and some studies have established an increase in melanoma among them in the U.S., according to a 2010 study conducted by the Department of Dermatology, University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine.

A 2008 study  also found that the incidence of melanoma in the Hispanic community has gone up by 19% from 1992 to 2008.

Every Sunburn Can Increase the Risk of Skin Cancer in Latinos

According to the CDC, a third of Hispanics have suffered a sunburn in the last year. It’s no dispute that sunburns are definitely a risk factor for melanoma for Hispanics.

Part of the problem could stem from the myth that “darker skin offers greater sun protection.” This is not true.

“Despite their skin being of brown shades, this does not excuse Hispanics from having skin cancer risks, especially with repeated sun exposure,” says Dr. Mosquera.  

Hazardous Indoor Tanning is Popular Among Hispanic Youth

A 2011 survey found in Journal of The American Board of Family Medicine noted 7.6% of Hispanic high school students (9.6% female and 5.7% male) reported they went to tanning salons, which has been associated with multiple forms of skin cancer, per the CDC.

Melanoma is Deadly for Hispanics

The incident rate of melanoma in the US is far more deadly than non-melanoma skin cancers. According to a 2013 study published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, the rate of Melanoma has risen 19% among Hispanics over the past two decades.

A 2012 study done by the CDC showed among men, white men were more likely to die of melanoma of the skin than any other group, followed by Hispanic, and black and Asian/Pacific Islander men (tied). Among women, Hispanics are also the second most common race/ethnicity to die of skin cancer.

Another common problem that may lead to skin cancer is not knowing when to apply sunscreen.  The answer is:  every single day!

Dr. Mosquera advises that, “anybody outside can be exposed to UVA or UVB rays and should avoid being close to the water, sand or snow for long periods of time without sunscreen.  Most people don’t reapply it after coming out of the water and most sunscreens, unless you apply it in lotion form, do not offer sufficient coverage.”  

What is a Good Protective SPF Sunscreen

People are not using sunscreen to their full potential of protection,  which is most likely due to the fact they forget to apply it enough or often, Dr. Mosquera finds.

When purchasing a sunscreen, look for “Broad Spectrum” protection on the label, meaning it protects from both UVA and UVB rays, and the SPF should not be over 30.  

Contrary to popular belief, a higher number does not mean greater protection. Products claiming to have SPF of 45 or 50 should be checked on Consumer Reports.  These are extremely important tips for keeping skin safe from cancer and other conditions.

Like everyone, Hispanics are advised to apply and reapply sunscreen often, and educate their children about the risks of skin cancer starting at a very young age.