Presentation, course, and outcome of head and neck skin cancer in African Americans: a case-control study

B Singh, M Bhaya, A Shaha, G Har-El, F E Lucente
Laryngoscope 1998, 108 (8): 1159-63

BACKGROUND: Several reports have shown that the presentation, course, and outcome of skin cancer is altered in African Americans. Subset data from these studies suggest that the course of head and neck skin cancer may be different from that occurring in other sites. However, very few studies have specifically investigated skin cancer involving the head and neck region in African-American patients.

METHODS: Retrospective case-control study including 215 patients with skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma [SCC], basal cell carcinoma [BCC], malignant melanoma, and adnexal tumors) presenting to a tertiary care institution over a 9.5-year period. Cases were defined as African Americans with skin cancer, and the control group included white and Latin-American patients with skin cancer.

RESULTS: Skin cancer occurred in the head and neck region in 135 cases (62%). However, head and neck involvement was less common in African-American patients (44%) than the control group (76%; P < .001). The anatomic distribution of head and neck skin lesions was similar between the groups, with nasal and scalp skin most often involved. In the head and neck region, the ratio of BCC to SCC (4:1) was similar among all groups. In contrast, in non-sun-exposed regions, the ratio was 1:8.5 for African-American patients compared with 1:1 for the control group (P < .001). The overall distribution of malignant melanoma was not influenced by sun exposure in either groups. The study groups were similar in gender distribution, primary treatment modality, rates of positive margins, and development of second skin cancers. Although African Americans presented with more advanced lesions (P < .001), their disease-free interval was similar to the control group. Only the margin status was a significant predictor of disease-free survival by multivariate analysis, with a relative risk of 1.68 (95% CI: 1.58-18.24)

CONCLUSIONS: Head and neck skin cancer is similar with regard to presentation and distribution in patients of all skin types. Moreover, in contrast to previous reports, the course of head and neck skin cancer may be less aggressive in African Americans, if appropriate treatment is provided. This report suggests that differences in skin cancer in African Americans reported in the literature reflect cancer occurring in non-sun-exposed regions.

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