Melanoma in Caucasian Americans

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“CDC – Skin Cancer Rates by Race and Ethnicity.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/statistics/race.htm (accessed July 13, 2013).

I picked this case because it is something that Americans have increasingly dealt with over the years.  Our community has focused huge amounts of time and money establishing tanning booths.  Although there are many ways to get melanoma, a main one is the usage of artificial tanning. In 2011, it was shown that 29% of white high school girls used indoor tanning facilities (Skin Cancer Rates by Race and Ethnicity, 2012).  The graph above shows that  death rates of melanoma among men and women of different races.  As you can see, the rates among white men and women are much higher than those of any other rates.  I am very interested in this topic because I do feel that, for some cases, we can control the amount of exposure we have to skin cancer.  Unlike other cancers that just “show up”, there are actually concrete ways to prevent most type of melanoma.

Based on class information today, I don’t think that race, which is a social construct usually based upon the color of ones skin, is a good indication of health.  However, I do think that there is a correlation between genetics and race because if someone is born with black skin, most likely one of both of their parents also have black skin!  In the movie about the Pima Indians, the researchers found that the wealth of the indians had the most affect on their health and wellness.  Although there may have been some factors that led to the prevalence of diabetes within their tribe, it was mostly external forces, such as diet and lack of access to water, that ultimately made their diabetes rates so high.  If those factors would have been different then the Pima people would have much lower rates of disease.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Steven Sochacki says:

    I agree that race does not determine how good someone’s health will be. The relationship between race and genetics that you wrote about is what I don’t really understand. If you think, at least according to the articles that we were assigned to read, that race is a social construct, then how can there be a relation between genetics and race? I also watched the case study about the Pima people and I agree with you in that their wealth had a large effect on their health in relation to getting type 2 diabetes. I think you also imply that genetics can affect health, at least somewhat, when you wrote about the Pima people, and I agree that it sometimes can.

    I think that racial categories in clinical studies could have some positive aspects when studying certain diseases or illnesses. The picture you included in your post, for example, shows that white Americans get melanoma more than any other race. From this, researchers could try and find out why exactly this is (maybe it involves genes that white people are more probable to have, maybe it is a practice like tanning that you mentioned, etc.). I also think a better way to talk about race in clinical studies would be to not involve having race as a part of the cause, but as something that increases the probability of a certain disease or illness based on common genes, economic status, etc. within a race.

  2. Justin Kenton says:

    Hello Danielle,
    Tanning booths are of a major concern in my own viewpoint too. Our culture views tan skin as being desirable over pale individuals. This outlook is completely cultural and has changed over the past century or so. There was a time when fair skinned individual were sought after opposed to tanned individuals because it was associated with higher status and not “working in the fields”. Those who had fair skin didn’t have to perform manual labor outside and was an indication of wealth. Now have the tables turned, haha!

    Today’s culture is completely the opposite and not healthy in my own opinion.
    When looking at the information/graph you posted it can clearly be seen that white individuals have much higher rate of getting skin cancer than others. Skin color has a huge impact on whether or not an individual is more prone to getting a form of skin cancer. Skin color is an adaptation to the environment that has been passed down the lineage. Darker skinned individuals are better at handling lower latitude environments and the opposite goes for whiter individuals. If white individuals are exposing themselves to more and more radiation, I can see why there would be a disparity between such groups. What is interesting to me about the graphs posted is that males actually have higher cases. I would be curious to know the number of individuals who use tanning beds by gender. I normally would have thought that females would be tanning more often. It may be possible that males are exposed to more natural radiation from the sun and not necessarily tanning more.

    I think that racial categories can only go so far when talking about radicalized health disparities simply because the “race” that an individual identifies as can be practically anything, for example, just because someone is “white” skinned it does not mean that they self-identify as white. I once heard a lecture from an anthropologist who works with the Maya. There are multiple lineages of modern Maya people today and they don’t call themselves Maya, but other names. In short, the way the social structures are set up and how tribes/relationships work there was one scenario where children in one particular family didn’t know how to identify themselves… When asked questions like, “who are you? Or how can you identify yourself?” If you don’t know how to identify yourself, then using “racial” categories to correlate with racial health disparities would not be accurate. I think it makes more sense to use racial categories as a case by case basis.

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