Skin Tone and Skin Cancer Risk

Acral lesions on soles, palms may be more common in darker-skinned patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) Got a darker complexion? Here's why you should be checking the palms of your hands and soles of your feet.

A new study from NYU Langone Medical Center found that people with darker skin may be up to 33 percent more likely to develop pigmented spots — called acral lesions — on their soles and palms than those with lighter skin. These spots can sometimes signal melanoma.

Cliff Holt, RPh, owner of Hurricane Family Pharmacy and Gunnison Family Pharmacy and Floral in Utah, told RxWiki News that "a full-body exam by a qualified dermatologist can save people's lives. It saved mine. I would have never seen the melanoma until it was too late."

The study authors said they hope this finding will raise awareness to get any spots checked by a dermatologist to ensure they are benign. While most acral lesions are harmless, some need to be regularly monitored.

"Acral pigmented lesions have not been well-studied in people with darker skin types," said senior study author Jennifer Stein, MD, PhD, an associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone, in a press release. "In rare cases, an unusual lesion like this can be an aggressive melanoma."

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. If recognized and treated early, it is almost always curable. But if not, melanoma can spread to other parts of the body and become hard to treat. This can be fatal in some cases.

For this study, researchers looked at the palms and soles of 1,052 patients who visited dermatology clinics in New York City or Miami between October 2013 and April 2015. Of these patients, 379 had acral lesions.

To compare lesion frequency in these patients, Dr. Stein and team used the Fitzpatrick Scale, a standard measure that divides skin color into six types based on response to the sun.

Thirty percent of non-Hispanic white patients were found to have acral lesions, compared to 40 percent of patients of other ethnicities. The difference in acral lesion frequency was even greater between patients with the lightest and darkest skin types at 28 and 44 percent, respectively.

No matter your skin tone, if you notice any spots on your palms or soles, or any other skin abnormalities, talk to your doctor right away. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 135,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year in the US.

This study was published online Dec. 14 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

The Skin Cancer Foundation funded this research. Study author Dr. Grichnik served as a consultant for and holds shares in several pharmaceutical companies.

Review Date: 
December 17, 2015
Last Updated:
December 20, 2015