W2 Reflection: Melanoma and Caucasian Women


(Crombie 1979, 187).

The relationship of race and genetics is a source of controversy in the scientific community. This is because the health disparities between races would appear to suggest that races are genetically distinct from one another, and higher frequencies of disease in a race are genetically predetermined. These patterns fail to take into account the environment one’s race might put them in, and the effects this environment might take on their health. In other words, although we all share an almost identical human genotype, the environment we live in dictates how it is expressed. (Gravlee 2009, 52)

Environmental impact on health is exemplified  in the aftermath of 9/11. One study compared the birth weights of Arabic children born 6 months after the attack (in February 2002) to the birth weights of those born in February 2001 (before the attack). It revealed a 34% increase in the likelihood of a low birth weight overall, and babies given distinctly Arabic names (indicating parents who closely identified with their ethnicity) were twice as likely to be born under weight. This indicates that the stress and fear felt constantly after 9/11 had a notable impact on health of one ethnicity. (Gravlee 2009, 52)

I suspect that melanoma is more common in white people because we lack melanin. Melanin protects the skin from the damage UV rays can cause to DNA. It has also been suggested that the races who live closer to the equator (and thus are subject to greater sun exposure) “have developed other protective mechanisms… [such as] the efficiency of the enzyme systems which repair UV-induced damage to DNA, so that races could differ either in the levels of inducibility or of the fidelity of these repair systems” (Crombie 1979, 191).

Another possibility, I would guess, is that our avoidance and fear of sunlight might actually put us at a greater risk. Regular exposure to UV rays allows our body to adapt and learn to deal with its effects, but if your body isn’t used to sunlight, intense or extended exposure can cause damage more quickly than your body can repair it.

Crombie, I. K. “Racial Differences in Melanoma Incidence.” Br J Cancer British Journal of Cancer 40, no. 2 (1979): 185-93. doi:10.1038/bjc.1979.165.

Gravlee, Clarence C. “How Race Becomes Biology: Embodiment of Social Inequality.” Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. American Journal of Physical Anthropology139, no. 1 (2009): 47-57. doi:10.1002/ajpa.20983.

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