Study reveals higher mortality rates in Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders with melanoma

Photo of cells with melanoma
Jensflorian/Creative Commons
A study found that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or APIs, with melanoma experience a higher rate of mortality than white people who are diagnosed with the same cancer. According to Clarice Ho, one of the researchers who conducted the study, increasing awareness and education of melanoma among the API community can help combat the disparity in mortality rate. (Photo by Jensflorian under CC BY-SA 4.0)

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According to a study published Aug. 25, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or APIs, who are diagnosed with melanoma have a higher mortality rate than their white counterparts but are diagnosed less frequently.

The study was conducted by several researchers, including UC Berkeley School of Public Health alumni Yixuan James Zheng and Clarice Ho. They found that APIs are generally diagnosed at later stages of melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer.

“We found that a large part of this higher mortality rate is due to API being diagnosed at later stages when the cancer has already progressed,” Zheng said in an email. “We hypothesize that API are being diagnosed late is due to a lack of awareness of melanoma.”

According to Zheng, white people experience higher rates of incidence and death from melanoma than APIs. But, as Zheng pointed out, there is a disparity between the two groups, with a 25 out of 100,000 incidence rate and 1.8 death rate among white people compared to a 1.3 incidence rate and 0.3 death rate among APIs.

API melanoma patients have a 27% increased risk of mortality compared to white patients, according to a School of Public Health article.

Zheng added that the study began when principal investigator Dr. Susana Ortiz-Urda noticed that of all API patients diagnosed at the melanoma clinic at UCSF, many were already in later stages of melanoma. Using the National Cancer Institute’s curated Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results database, the team analyzed cancer data to see why there is a higher mortality rate among API patients.

The team hypothesized that APIs are subject to later diagnosis because of low incidence rates and lack of awareness, according to Zheng. Melanoma tumors often appear in hard-to-see places, such as nail beds, on people of color.

Ho said in an email that it is important for APIs to realize the risks of developing melanoma and take proper precautions for prevention and diagnosis, such as using sunscreen and getting regular skin checks.

“We believe that increasing awareness and education of melanoma can help, so we had designed an educational intervention that we originally planned to pilot at community clinics,” Ho said in the email. “Unfortunately, we’ve had to indefinitely postpone this project due to COVID-19.”

The educational intervention would have occurred in San Francisco’s Chinatown in April. The pilot would have included presentations, brochures and workshops to increase health literacy, Ho said in the email.

The team also prepared surveys in hopes of changing API perception of melanoma and educating people on social and cultural factors that influence perception of the disease, according to Ho.

“Overall, API health is often neglected in research studies in the US, and we want to bring attention to a lesser-known health disparity in this population,” Ho said in the email.

Contact Leon Chen and Taylor Rudman at [email protected].