Skin of Color

Assessing the Effectiveness of Knowledge-Based Interventions in Increasing Skin Cancer Awareness, Knowledge, and Protective Behaviors in Skin of Color Populations

In Collaboration with the Skin of Color Society

Author and Disclosure Information

Skin of color (SOC) populations (ie, blacks, Hispanics, Asians) are at a notably higher risk for mortality from skin cancers such as melanoma than white individuals. In this article, we seek to answer the following question: Do knowledge-based interventions increase skin cancer awareness among SOC patients? Following an extensive literature search, a total of 4 articles were analyzed and discussed in this review.

Practice Points

  • Patients of color should be informed that they are at risk for skin cancer including melanoma.
  • Patients of color should be taught to identify suspicious skin lesions including the ABCDEs of melanoma.
  • Patients of color should be instructed to perform self-body skin examinations, especially of the palms and soles, for any evolving skin lesions. Patients should be instructed on the importance of visiting a physician for an evolving or suspicious mole or lesion.



Malignant melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma account for approximately 40% of all neoplasms among the white population in the United States. Skin cancer is the most common malignancy in the United States.1 However, despite this occurrence, there are limited data regarding skin cancer in individuals with skin of color (SOC). The 5-year survival rates for melanoma are 58.2% for black individuals, 69.7% for Hispanics, and 70.9% for Asians compared to 79.8% for white individuals in the United States.2 Even though SOC populations have lower incidences of skin cancer—melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma—they exhibit higher death rates.3-7 Nonetheless, no specific guidelines exist to address sun exposure and safety habits in SOC populations.6,8 Furthermore, current demographics suggest that by the year 2050, approximately half of the US population will be nonwhite.4 Paradoxically, despite having increased sun protection from greater amounts of melanin in their skin, black individuals are more likely to present with advanced-stage melanoma (eg, stage III/IV) compared to white individuals.8-12 Furthermore, those of nonwhite populations are more likely to present with more advanced stages of acral lentiginous melanomas than white individuals.13,14 Hispanics also face an increasing incidence of more invasive acral lentiginous melanomas.15 Overall, SOC patients have the poorest skin cancer prognosis, and the data suggest that the reason for this paradox is delayed diagnosis.1

Although skin cancer is largely a preventable condition, the literature suggests that lack of awareness of melanoma among ethnic minorities is one of the main reasons for their poor skin cancer prognosis.16 This lack of awareness decreases the likelihood that an SOC patient would be alert to early detection of cancerous changes.17 Because educating at-risk SOC populations is key to decreasing skin cancer risk, this study focused on determining the efficacy of major knowledge-based interventions conducted to date.1 Overall, we sought to answer the question, do knowledge-based interventions increase skin cancer awareness, knowledge, and protective behavior among people of color?


For this review, the Cochrane method of analysis was used to conduct a thorough search of PubMed articles indexed for MEDLINE (1994-2016), as well as a search of CINAHL (1997-2016), PsycINFO (1999-2016), and Web of Science (1965-2016), using a combination of more than 100 search terms including but not limited to skin cancer, skin of color, intervention, and ethnic skin. The search yielded a total of 52 articles (Figure). Following review, only 8 articles met inclusion criteria, which were as follows: (1) study was related to skin cancer in SOC patients, which included an intervention to increase skin cancer awareness and knowledge; (2) study included adult participants or adolescents aged 12 to 18 years; (3) study was written in English; and (4) study was published in a peer-reviewed journal. Of the remaining 8 articles, 4 were excluded due to the following criteria: (1) study failed to provide both preintervention and postintervention data, (2) study failed to provide quantitative data, and (3) study included participants who worked as health care professionals or ancillary staff. As a result, a total of 4 articles were analyzed and discussed in this review (Table).

Data collection flowchart of the total number of articles yielded in the literature search.


Robinson et al18 conducted 12 focus groups with 120 total participants (40 black, 40 Asian, and 40 Hispanic patients). Participants engaged in a 2-hour tape-recorded focus group with a moderator guide on melanoma and skin cancer. Furthermore, they also were asked to assess skin cancer risk in 5 celebrities with different skin tones. The statistically significant preintervention results of the study (χ2=4.6, P<.001) were as follows: only 2%, 4%, and 14% correctly reported that celebrities with a very fair skin type, a fair skin type, and very dark skin type, respectively, could get sunburn, compared to 75%, 76%, and 62% post-intervention. Additionally, prior to intervention, 14% of the study population believed that dark brown skin type could get sunburn compared to 62% of the same group postintervention. This study demonstrated that the intervention helped SOC patients better identify their ability to get sunburn and identify their skin cancer risk.18

Hernandez et al19 used a video-based intervention in a Hispanic community, which was in contrast to the multiracial focus group intervention conducted by Robinson et al.18 Eighty Hispanic individuals were recruited from beauty salons to participate in the study. Participants watched two 3-minute videos in Spanish and completed a preintervention and postintervention survey. The first video emphasized the photoaging benefits of sun protection, while the second focused on skin cancer prevention. Preintervention surveys indicated that only 54 (68%) participants believed that fair-skinned Hispanics were at risk for skin cancer, which improved to 72 (90%) participants postintervention. Furthermore, initially only 44 (55%) participants thought those with darker skin types could develop skin cancer, but this number increased to 69 (86%) postintervention. For both questions regarding fair and dark skin, the agreement proportion was significantly different between the preeducation and posteducation videos (P<.0002 for the fair skin question and P<.0001 for the dark skin question). This study greatly increased awareness of skin cancer risk among Hispanics,19 similar to the Robinson et al18 study.

In contrast to 2-hour focus groups or 3-minute video–based interventions, a study by Kundu et al17 employed a 20-minute educational class-based intervention with both verbal and visual instruction. This study assessed the efficacy of an educational tutorial on improving awareness and early detection of melanoma in SOC individuals. Photographs were used to help participants recognize the ABCDEs of melanoma and to show examples of acral lentiginous melanomas in white individuals. A total of 71 participants completed a preintervention questionnaire, participated in a 20-minute class, and completed a postintervention questionnaire immediately after and 3 months following the class. The study population included 44 black, 15 Asian, 10 Hispanic, and 2 multiethnic participants. Knowledge that melanoma is a skin cancer increased from 83.9% to 100% immediately postintervention (P=.0001) and 97.2% at 3 months postintervention (P=.0075). Additionally, knowledge that people of color are at risk for melanoma increased from 48.4% preintervention to 82.8% immediately postintervention (P<.0001). However, only 40.8% of participants retained this knowledge at 3 months postintervention. Because only 1 participant reported a family history of skin cancer, the authors hypothesized that the reason for this loss of knowledge was that most participants were not personally affected by friends or family members with melanoma. A future study with an appropriate control group would be needed to support this claim. This study shed light on the potential of class-based interventions to increase both awareness and knowledge of skin cancer in SOC populations.17

A study by Chapman et al20 examined the effects of a sun protection educational program on increasing awareness of skin cancer in Hispanic and black middle school students in southern Los Angeles, California. It was the only study we reviewed that focused primarily on adolescents. Furthermore, it included the largest sample size (N=148) analyzed here. Students were given a preintervention questionnaire to evaluate their awareness of skin cancer and current sun-protection practices. Based on these results, the investigators devised a set of learning goals and incorporated them into an educational pamphlet. The intervention, called “Skin Teaching Day,” was a 1-day program discussing skin cancer and the importance of sun protection. Prior to the intervention, 68% of participants reported that they used sunscreen. Three months after completing the program, 80% of participants reported sunscreen use, an increase of 12% prior to the intervention. The results of this study demonstrated the unique effectiveness and potential of pamphlets in increasing sunscreen use.20

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