Melanoma in the Irish

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In America and throughout the world we often use skin color to classify people by race.  This is a very subjective way to classify people and it speaks to the arbitrary nature of the social construction of race.  However, race does have importance in medicine, as it reflects a similar genetic makeup amongst a population of people.  Genes are important to identify because it can tell a person a lot about their health.  This information be useful in determining what types of illnesses an individual may be susceptible to.  23andme, a private company that offers ancestry information through DNA testing, once provided a service where they would warn customers about the possibility of disease based on where their ancestors once lived, although this service was halted by the FDA until the research behind it was more concrete.

I chose Melanoma amongst Irish people.  Irish are generally very fair-skinned.  Fairer skin offers less protection against UV rays from the sun.  This becomes a problem when Irish people are exposed to too much sunlight, the skin can burn and moles form.  This can cause the Melanocytes in your skin to mutate and grow uncontrollably.  Melanocytes produce Melanin, the chemical which gives your skin its color.  MElanoma is a very deadly form of cancer because of the way and how quickly it spreads.

The graph I chose doesn’t show statistics for the Irish in particular.  They are lumped in with “All White” versus American Indian, Asian, Hispanic and Black.  However you can still see just how big of a role genetics plays in one’s risk of developing melanoma.  Even the races considered to be of the lighter end of the spectrum still have a significantly lower risk of melanoma than those classified as white.  Race’s significance in this case can hardly be overstated when it comes to risk of melanoma.

Accessed July 11, WebMD,

http://www.webmd.com/melanoma-skin-cancer/melanoma-guide/sunburn-and-skin-cancer-topic-overview

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Naomi Fleischmann says:

    I am very glad that you brought up the 23andMe company because I believe it is the perfect example of how genetics are so integral to our lives. With this company we may have been able to find out tens of years in advance if we were going to suffer from Alzheimer’s down the road, or from another crippling disease. Had the FDA stayed out of the way, people may have been able to start preparing for their medical future now instead of at a time when one can no longer change his current state of health.
    When it comes to racial categorization, I believe that we must put aside what may be considered “politically correct” and simply acknowledge the facts. Given melanoma, for example, I believe it is completely appropriate to target an audience of mostly fair skinned people and warn them of the dangers of this deadly disease. That is not to say that people with other shades of skin should not be warned of the possibility of melanoma, but I believe that it would make logical sense for fairer skinned people to go in for check-ups more regularly. It would also make statistically logical sense to warn African Americans of the potential that they may have diabetes because it has been proven that they are sixty percent more likely to have this disease over white Americans [1]. The minute that doctors stop acknowledging that their patients’ race is important to their diagnosis is the minute that doctors stop becoming useful. In conclusion, I believe that the “better way” of talking about racialized health disparities is to acknowledge that race definitely matters in terms of a diagnosis; one’s health should not be spoken about in a way that beats around the bush but instead it should be understood that a doctor is not being racist or sexist or any other type of bias, but he is simply conceding to the differences in medical backgrounds.

    [1] Daniel J. DeNoon, “Why 7 Deadly Diseases Strike Blacks Most,” WebMD, accessed July 12, 2014, http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/features/why-7-deadly-diseases-strike-blacks-most.

  2. Francesca Rogers says:

    You did well explaining the relationship between race, genetics, and health. Most individuals that belong to a specific race share a similar skin color and genetic makeup. This is what subjectively, helps us pinpoint where a person belongs. On the other hand, however, with more and more people joining together to reproduce, the offspring may belong to multiple races and share both genetic makeups. This could be good depending on the exposure of the race to disease and illness. Agreeing with Naomi in the above comment, it is nice that you brought up 23andMe. This goes to show how much we rely on genetics to discuss where a person may or may not have come from. The goal of the company is to be able to tell you down the line if you are going to suffer from a disease or illness by looking at the history of genetic makeup.
    Racial categories are very helpful in clinical studies because instead of focusing on one individual you are able to make decisions and observations on an entire group of people. Through evolution, racial groups have developed gene mutations to help cope with certain diseases and as we review this from similar people we are able to communicate new findings for other groups. For example, if someone is focused on the Irish and their skin exposure leading to cancer, we can evaluate certain genes and maybe find a cure or a way to slow down melanoma through other races that might also be fair skinned.

  3. Widad Nasser says:

    I agree with you about using skin color to classify race being very subjective. However, our genetic makeup is what determines the color of our skin and our physical appearance. I somewhat agree that our genes are important in determining our health. Genetic makeup has an important role in predetermining out health. Genetic mutations can cause illness/diseases before our environment can influence us. However, just because we have similar genes as the people in our race does not mean that we are susceptible to the same illnesses/diseases. There are other factors, such as the environment, that play an important role in the cause of disease in certain populations. I think it is really great that the company, 23andMe, can track back your genetics to your ancestors and provide you with any diseases that you could be susceptible to. This goes back to my point about genetics predetermining out health. Racial categories are very important in clinical studies because it helps us identify why there are certain diseases among different people. Their diseases can be caused by genetic flow, and passed down generations. Our race and genetic makeup can help doctors understand and diagnose us better. For example, knowing that you are Irish can help them get a better understanding when diagnosing you with Melanoma.

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