Melanoma in White Americans

melanoma in white americans


I self identify as a white american and I chose to write about melanoma because it is a disease that predominantly affects and is contracted by white americans. Melanoma is a type of skin cancer caused by unprotected exposure to UV radiation. What makes melanoma stand out from other predominantly white affecting diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, is that is it contracted at some point during an individuals life rather than genetically inherited. The exposure to UV radiation turns normal skin cells abnormal and those abnormal cells begin to attack its surrounding cells. As with most diseases, any ethnic group has the chance of contracting it, but melanoma is most common in fair-skinned people, predominantly whites. I believe this has to do with the amount of eumelanin in an individual’s skin. Eumelanin works as a blocker of UV radiation, and the more eumelanin in the skin, the darker the complexion. So while white americans have low amounts of eumelanin and have less UV protection, african americans and other darker complexion ethnic groups have more eumelanin and more UV protection built into their skin. The fairer the skin the more likely to contract melanoma.

Based on this week’s material it can be seen that genetics connect to health just as much as race connects to health. As seen in West Africa, the millions of inhabitants there have a genetic defense against an otherwise deadly disease of malaria. Being heterozygous for sickle cell anemia can protect these people against malaria. In this case, genetics is intertwined with the health of those who live in West Africa. Moving East to the Africans living near the Nile River it can be seen that race as well is intertwined with health. Young black boys often play in the Nile River and contract┬áschistosomiasis while many other races dont have to jump in the Nile River to avoid the sweltering heat of the sun. Here it is seen that race and location also are intertwined with health.


D’Orazio, John A., Stuart Jarrett, and Amanda Marsch. “Melanoma – Epidemiology, Genetics and Risk Factors.” Intech. Google. Accessed July 10, 2013.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Peter Ferszt says:

    I think that one could also examine current beauty standards among white Americans and how it adds to the prevalence in Caucasians. Being ‘tan’ is viewed as more attractive in America, while in other cultures pale complexions are more revered. This desire to be tan leads to more individuals pursuing artificial UV exposure, like tanning beds, to become tan. These high concentrations from UV rays with little protection from sunscreen (as that would defeat the purpose of tanning), put individuals at great risk from skin diseases like Melanoma, which is mostly caused by sun exposure. American culture and beauty standards have caused individuals to seek out hazardous habits to become more attractive. Black individuals, who are already dark skinned, most likely don’t feel this pressure.

    Racial categories are extremely detrimental in clinical studies because they emphasize strictly genetic and biological differences, rather than cultural and social ones. Even though health trends tell us that a disease is more prevalent in one race does not always mean that it is genetic. In this case, skin tone is an advantage, but one could also utilize sunscreen to combat this issue. In other examples, like high hypertension in Black Americans, one might assume that because they have higher rates of it, then they must just genetically be predisposed to contracting it. This fails to address that Black Americans fall into a social minority, and are thus more likely to be plagued by poverty. Poverty and low income lead to less freedom to make healthy choices, especially in diet, and then lead to poor chronic health. This leads to hypertension, not genetics.

  2. Matt Waldrop says:

    Hi Katie,

    While I agree with Peter with the fact that being tan is typically a high beauty standard, I would say that is only a more recent trend and has not always been the case. I think if you go back and look from our European decent, we used to wear long clothes to prevent sunburns, and mostly stay in doors if the sun was too hot. I think over time this put us at a disadvantage from other cultures who spent most of the day in the sun without their long clothes, and their skin bodies adapted to being exposed to the sun for long periods of time. Now more than ever though trying to be “tan” is causing serious health problems for those with white skin type. I had never heard of Eumelanin before, so it was good to read about how it works, and how it is prevalent in those with darker skin types. I think racial categories can in some instances be useful in clinical study, however, not all the time. I believe because we create these categories that is part of the health disparity problem. A better solution would be to find another way that is just as convenient to categorize people, which we haven’t found yet.

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