Melanoma in Black People: What You Need To know

Melanoma in Black people is a topic infrequently discussed amongst the community. Yet, it is a skin cancer that can develop in any race. It happens when some cells in your skin grow too much and make a lump. It is one of the most common kinds of cancer in the United States, and more and more people are getting it. But melanoma is not the same for everyone. Different people have different chances of getting it and different ways of treating it.


Incidence and survival of Melanoma in Black People

Some people look at numbers to learn about melanoma. They found out that not many black people get it, only one out of 100,000. But white people get melanoma more often, 24 out of 100,000. They also found out that black people usually find out they have it later than white people, and they have a harder time getting better from it.

From 2001 through 2014, the relative 5-year melanoma survival rate among non-Hispanic black people was 66.2%. This means that for every 100 black people who get the condition, 66 will live for five years or more. But for every 100 white people who get melanoma, 90 will live for five years or more.

Types and causes of Melanoma in Black People

There are different kinds of melanoma. The most common kind for black people is called ALM. ALM stands for acral lentiginous melanoma. It shows up on the palms of your hands, the soles of your feet, or under your nails. You’ll notice a dark spot or streak that does not go away. It is not caused by the sun and it is harder to treat than other kinds of melanoma. ALM is also more common for Hispanic and Asian people than for white people.

What is ALM?

ALM is different from other kinds of melanoma because it affects parts of your skin that have less pigment. Pigment is what makes your skin darker or lighter. Pigment also protects your skin from the sun. Most melanomas happen on parts of your skin that have more pigment and get more sun, like your face, arms, or legs. But ALM happens on parts of your skin that have less pigment and get less sun, like your palms, soles, or nails.

ALM is also different from other kinds of melanoma because it grows faster and deeper into your skin. This makes it harder to find and remove. If ALM is not found and treated early, it can spread to other parts of your body and make you very sick.

What causes ALM Melanoma in African Americans?

The exact cause of ALM in African Americans is not known. Some experts think that it may be related to genes or other factors that make some skin cells more likely to grow out of control. Some studies have found that some black people with ALM have changes in their DNA that affect how their cells grow and divide. These changes are called mutations.

Some mutations may be inherited from parents or grandparents. This means that some black people may be born with a higher risk of getting ALM if their family members had it before. Other mutations may happen during a person’s life because of things like chemicals, viruses, or radiation. These mutations are not passed on to children.

However, most black people with ALM do not have any known mutations or family history of the condition. This means that there may be other causes that we do not understand yet.


Some people think that melanoma is not a big problem for black people. They think that black people don’t get melanoma because their skin is darker and protects them from the sun. They also think that melanoma is not serious and can be cured easily. These are wrong ideas that can make black people miss the signs of melanoma, get the wrong treatment, or not know enough about it.

Sun exposure and prevention of Melanoma in Black People

Another wrong idea is that black people can prevent melanoma by staying away from the sun or using sunscreen. While the sun can cause some kinds of melanoma, it does not cause ALM, which is the most common kind for black people. So avoiding the sun or using sunscreen may not help much to prevent melanoma in black people.


To make things better for black people who have or may get melanoma, we need to do some things.

Education and awareness of Melanoma in Black People

First, we need to teach black people what melanoma looks like and how to check their skin for it, especially their palms, soles, and nails. Second, we need to tell doctors and nurses more about ALM and how to find it and treat it early in black people.

Research and Treatment

Third, we need to do more research to understand why ALM happens and how to make better medicines for it.

Melanoma in black people is a serious problem that we need to care about and act on. By knowing the facts, avoiding the wrong ideas, and doing the fixes, we can help black people who have or may get melanoma.


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