Studies show Latinos are more likely to neglect sun safety

May 27 2012 - 11:16pm

Just because people have more melanin in their skin doesn't mean they are immune to melanoma.

Yet, even with that knowledge, national studies show that Latinos are less likely to take preventive measures to protect themselves against skin cancer.

Latinos in Utah are not the exception.

Huntsman Cancer Institute Patient and Public Education Director Donna Branson said Latinos in Utah still show up with skin cancer, the same as their fairer-skinned counterparts.

"People have been told if you have dark skin you don't have to worry about it," Branson said. "I want everyone to know regardless of the color of their skin, they need to take safety measures. People with the darkest skin still end up with melanoma and skin cancer."

Utah ranks among the states with the highest risk for melanoma, along with Colorado and Wyoming. According to the Centers for Disease Control Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 28.6 percent of Latinos in Utah reported using sunscreen always or nearly always, which is significantly lower than non-Latinos.

The same report said 67 percent of Latinos practiced one or more sun-safety measures, such as sunblock sunscreen, staying in the shade, wearing a wide-brimmed hat or wearing long-sleeved shirts.

In the Ogden area, however, Latinos are not alone in their lapses in sun safety.

Weber-Morgan Health Department reports its coverage area, especially Ogden, has the lowest average in practicing sun safety in the state.

When Latinos do get cancer, a report by the Cancer Institute of New Jersey released recently also shows, they are less likely to get screened.

The result, the report states, is that Latinos are more likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer at an earlier age and with thicker, more advanced melanoma.

The New Jersey study said only one in 14 Latino adults in the United States has ever gone through the cancer screening process, compared to one in four non-Latino white adults. Branson said Utah does not have figures on cancer screenings.

A lack of health insurance and poorer access to health care contribute to Latinos not getting checkups, the study said.

That is compounded by the fact that many Latinos have a false sense of security, Ogden Clinic dermatologist Dr. Chad Tingey said.

A common problem he sees with his Latino patients is skin cancer on the hands and feet, which have less pigmentation to protect them.

Latinos need to understand that they come in all skin types, Tingey said, and although some may be a little more resistant, none are immune to skin cancer.

"With enough sunlight exposure and the right genes, the DNA does change and they get skin cancer," Tingey said. "When skin cancer happens on Hispanic patients, it does seem a little worse because they probably ignored it."

Tingey said he treated a man from Ecuador that had a sore on his forehead that he left untreated for years.

The sore just wasn't the first thing on the patient's mind, Tingey said.

Most never even go to the doctor.

Huntsman Cancer Institute Hispanic Outreach Coordinator Guadalupe Tovar said many Latinos are afraid to find out they are ill. Most will purposely ignore symptoms until it is too late.

"If we see a mole, we think it's a common thing, but if that mole changes color, it could be something suspicious," Tovar said. "When they finally do go, they do not have enough information to get properly treated."

Tovar works educating the Latino community about cancer in general, as well as helping Latino patients at the institute with translations, finding resources and supporting them through the medical process.

Many people feel they are safe because they are not in the desert or at an area near sea level, but Tovar said they do not realize that the solar rays are more intense in the mountainous areas.

Parents need to practice sun safety with their children, as well.

"Cancer is not something that appears overnight," Tovar said.

She recommends Latinos attend health fairs offered by local health departments, churches and schools.

The Huntsman Cancer Institute invites residents to attend its next cancer screenings at 9 a.m. Sept. 29 at the South Towne Expo Center, 9575 S. State St., Sandy.

In the meantime, the institute recommends that everyone does monthly skin self-examinations.

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