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Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have poorer melanoma outcomes than White patients

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (API) are diagnosed less frequently with skin cancer than White Americans. But they have higher mortality rates once diagnosed, a new study shows.

“Asian and Pacific Islander patients with melanoma have a 27% increased risk of mortality compared to White patients,” said Yixuan James Zheng, a medical student at UCSF, Berkeley Public Health alumnus, and co-author of the study. “Their poor survival rate is often overlooked in the US.”

In a paper published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in August 2020, researchers reported that API patients had lower chances of surviving melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, and a higher chance of late diagnosis than White patients did. “The later the cancer is diagnosed, the worse the outcome is,” said Zheng.

“Physicians and patients have to be aware of cancer risk in a different way,” said co-author Clarice Ho, “because educational materials and clinical practices are often not tailored toward how melanoma presents in minority populations.”

To spot the disparities, the researchers examined a database of nearly 1,700 API Americans and 236,000 White Americans.

The researchers hypothesize that physicians are less likely to suspect melanoma in API Americans, leading to under-diagnosis. In addition, patients themselves often believe that API Americans are immune from skin cancers, keeping them away from regular skin checks which results in diagnoses at a later stage of the disease.

“If we are able to increase preventative strategies and earlier diagnosis in API populations, there could be far less risk of poor outcomes,” said Ho.