Academy seeks volunteers to bring awareness, skin cancer screenings to underserved Latino populations

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By Amit G. Pandya, MD

Last month, a study that published in JAAD received considerable online news coverage. Its message: Although melanoma incidence is higher in Caucasians, patients with darker skin phototypes are less likely to survive the disease.

While this was news to the media, the study’s conclusions aren’t news to dermatologists. We know that people of all races and colors can develop skin cancer. We also know that most skin cancer – when caught early – is highly treatable. Yet sadly, when skin cancer develops in people of color, it is often diagnosed at a more advanced stage, making it more difficult to treat. Because of this, the five-year survival rate for African-Americans and Latinos is lower than for Caucasians.

Although there are a myriad of reasons for this, one is the belief among people with skin of color that they aren’t at risk for skin cancer. Because of this, people with skin of color may not seek medical attention for unusual spots on their skin because they don’t believe those lesions pose a risk.

Most importantly, the program needs OUR help to keep up with the demand for screenings.

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Another reason involves access to health care. Although the Affordable Care Act has helped many individuals obtain health insurance who would not otherwise have it, an article in the New York Times reports there are still 24 million people in the U.S. without health insurance – many of them people with skin of color. In fact, according to a survey by the Commonwealth Fund, 40 percent of the uninsured are Hispanic. This is certainly true in my home state, Texas.

To help tackle these issues, the Academy started the Latino Outreach program to provide skin cancer education and screenings to underserved, outdoor Latino workers. Under the program, the Academy coordinates with member dermatologists and Mexican consulates in the U.S. to offer free skin cancer screenings as part of the consulates’ regular, on-site health programming. Although the program originally served migrant and seasonal farmworkers in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida, it has since expanded to include low-income working Latino families and Latinos living below the poverty line in multiple U.S. states. The results have been encouraging thus far. Latinos, many of them from low-income families and outdoor jobs, have started showing up at these screenings. We are educating this community and detecting skin cancers but much more needs to be done.

Most importantly, the program needs OUR help to keep up with the demand for screenings. As doctors, we are uniquely equipped with the knowledge, training and experience to give back in the greatest way possible – through healing and saving lives. The Latino Outreach program offers a wonderful way to do just that for a population that works hard, but either doesn’t have health insurance, is underinsured, or cannot afford high-deductible insurance plans. This program targets individuals who work in construction, agriculture, food services and other low-wage jobs who, due to language barriers and financial and legal concerns, are shut out from receiving what many others in the U.S. take for granted: affordable, quality health care.

Despite the Affordable Care Act, Latinos continue to have the highest uninsured rates of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. With more work still to do, I encourage you to give back and help protect these vulnerable, underserved Latino workers. By donating your time to conduct free skin cancer screenings with the Academy, you can help educate and protect low-income, outdoor Latino workers from the most common, yet preventable cancer in the U.S.

Amit G. Pandya, MD, is a professor of dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and an active volunteer for the Academy’s Latino Outreach program. In 2014, he received the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism in Medicine Award from the Academy.

Learn more

To learn more about the Latino Outreach program or volunteer for a screening, contact Brenda Hilligoss, Manager of the Academy’s Community Outreach Program, at 847-240-1415 or bhilligoss@aad.org. Spanish-speaking volunteers are preferred.

Locations include: Atlanta GA; Austin TX; Boise ID; Calexico CA; Chicago IL; Dallas TX; Fresno CA; Los Angeles CA; Miami FL; Philadelphia PA; Phoenix AZ; Sacramento CA; San Diego CA and Raleigh NC.

Volunteers are especially needed in October for Binational Health Week (BHW) – a campaign to improve the health and well-being of the underserved Latino population in the U.S. and Canada.