Race, genetics and health have a complex relationship that isn’t easy to explain. Often people tend to use race to determine whether or not people are susceptible to certain disease, but in reality, genetics and other non-genetic factors, such as culture, are the key contributing factors. Categorizing people based on race is a social construction that has been used to place people into socioeconomic classes. Race cannot actually be determined biologically, so race cannot really be used to make assumptions about health because races are not biologically discrete groups. So why is there often evident disparities in health and disease susceptibility between races? In lecture, we discussed racialized medicine and used BiDil as an example to help answer this question. BiDil is a prescription drug used to treat heart failure in African Americans. The controversy surrounding BiDil involves the non-existence of biologically discrete races. There is no way to test for race, so people simply have to be self-proclaimed African American in order to obtain the drug – this means that it can potentially have the same results on any race. In this case, factors other than race, such as culture, are most likely causing the disparities among socially constructed racial lines. Stress due to racism and socioeconomic factors such as income, wealth, health, education and neighborhood may be contributing factors in heart failure among African Americans. On the other hand, people can be broken down to their biological components. Genetics can also be used to explain health, disease and varying susceptibility to disease. Overall, when it comes to health and disease susceptibility, I think genetics and culture are more important factors than race.
I chose to research the prevalence of skin cancer among Caucasians. Many factors contribute to the risk of developing skin cancer, including age, gender, ethnicity, and geographic location. The development of skin cancer is ten times more common in Caucasians than in ethnicities with dark skin. Based on this week’s lecture, I think this is less of a racial distinction, and more of a genetic, cultural, and environmental distinction. Melanin is produced in skin within cells called melanoctyes and the amount of melanin produced from person to person is genetically determined. The amount of melanin produced is inherited from their parents. If you’re parents are light-skinned then it is likely that you will be too, and vice versa. These genetic traits have been inherited from generation to generation based on adaptation to the environment. In hot, sunny climates, darker skin protects people from harmful UV rays, so evolution has resulted in those genes being passed on. Everyone who spends time in the sun is at risk of developing skin cancer, but because those with light skin are less protected from UV rays, they tend to develop skin cancer more often and sooner than those with dark skin. Another reason that Caucasians have more incidence of skin cancer is because of the increase in exposure to artificial UV rays. It has become a cultural and social norm that Caucasians, especially females, use tanning beds. This causes more UV damage to the skin, which can increase the chances of developing skin cancer. There are many factors that contribute to the disproportionate incidence of skin cancer in Caucasians and it is important to consider all of these factors.
American Cancer Society. “Cancer Facts & Figures 2012.” . http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@epidemiologysurveilance/documents/document/acspc-031941.pdf (accessed July 8, 2014).
CME Resource. “5077: Skin Cancers.” . http://www.netce.com/coursecontent.php?courseid=913 (accessed July 8, 2014).
Smithsonian Institution. “Human Skin Color Variation.” . http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/genetics/skin-color/modern-human-diversity-skin-color (accessed July 9, 2014).