The Dayanara Effect: Increasing Skin Cancer Awareness in the Hispanic Community

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In February 2019, Dayanara Torres announced that she had been diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. Ms. Torres, a Puerto Rican–born former Miss Universe who has more than 1 million followers on Instagram (@dayanarapr), seemed an unlikely candidate for skin cancer, which often is associated with fair-skinned and light-eyed individuals. She shared the news of her diagnosis in an Instagram video that has now received more than 850,000 views. In the video, Ms. Torres described a new mole with uneven surface that had developed on her leg and noted that she had ignored it, even though it had been growing for years. Ultimately, she was diagnosed with melanoma that had already metastasized to regional lymph nodes in her leg. Ms. Torres concluded the video by urging fans and viewers to be mindful of new or changing skin lesions and to be aware of the seriousness of skin cancer. In March 2019, Ms. Torres posted a follow-up educational video on Instagram highlighting the features of melanoma that has now received more than 300,000 views.

Since her announcement, we have noticed that more Hispanic patients with concerns about skin cancer are presenting to our dermatology clinic, which is located in a highly diverse city (New Brunswick, New Jersey) with approximately 50% of residents identifying as Hispanic.1 Most Hispanic patients typically present to our dermatology clinic for non–skin cancer–related concerns, such as acne, rash, and dyschromia; however, following Ms. Torres’ announcement, many have cited her diagnosis of metastatic melanoma as a cause for concern and a motivating factor in having their skin examined. The diagnosis in a prominent celebrity and Hispanic woman has given a new face to metastatic melanoma.

Although melanoma most commonly occurs in white patients, Hispanic patients experience disproportionately greater morbidity and mortality when diagnosed with melanoma.2 Poor prognosis in patients with skin of color is multifactorial and may be due to poor use of sun protection, misconceptions about melanoma risk, atypical clinical presentation, impaired access to care, and delay in diagnosis. The Hispanic community encompasses a wide variety of individuals with varying levels of skin pigmentation and sun sensitivity.3 However, Hispanics report low levels of sun-protective behaviors. They also may have misconceptions that sunscreen is ineffective in preventing skin cancer and that little can be done to decrease the risk for developing skin cancer.4,5 Additionally, Hispanic patients often have lower perceptions of their personal risk for melanoma and report low rates of clinical and self-examinations compared to non-Hispanic white patients.6-8 Many Hispanic patients have reported that they were not instructed to perform self-examinations of their skin regularly by dermatologists or other providers and did not know the signs of skin cancer.7 Furthermore, a language barrier also may impede communication and education regarding melanoma risk.9

Similar to white patients, superficial spreading melanoma is the most common histologic subtype in Hispanic patients, followed by acral lentiginous melanoma, which is the most common subtype in black and Asian patients.2,4 Compared to non-Hispanic white patients, who most commonly present with truncal melanomas, Hispanic patients (particularly those from Puerto Rico, such as Ms. Torres) are more likely to present with melanoma on the lower extremities.4,10 Additionally, Hispanic patients have high rates of head, neck, and mucosal melanomas compared to all other racial and ethnic groups.2

Hispanic patients diagnosed with melanoma are more likely to present with thicker primary tumors, later stages of disease, and distant metastases compared to non-Hispanic white patients, all of which are associated with poor prognosis.2,4,11 Five-year survival rates for melanoma are lower in Hispanic patients compared to non-Hispanic white patients.12 Although the Hispanic community is diverse in socioeconomic and immigration status as well as occupation, lack of insurance also may contribute to decreased access to care, delayed diagnosis, and ultimately worse survival.

These disparities have spurred suggestions for increased education about skin cancer and the signs and symptoms of melanoma, encouragement of self-examinations, and routine clinical skin examinations for Hispanic patients by dermatologists and other providers.8 There is evidence that knowledge-based interventions, especially when presented in Spanish, produce statistically significant improvements in knowledge of skin cancer risk and sun-protective behavior among Hispanic patients.12 Similarly, we have observed that the videos shared by Ms. Torres regarding her melanoma diagnosis and the features of melanoma, in which she spoke in Spanish, have compelled many Hispanic patients to examine their own skin and have led to increased concern for skin cancer in this patient population. In our practice, we refer to the increase in spot checks and skin examinations requested by Hispanic patients as “The Dayanara Effect,” and we hypothesize that this same effect may be taking place throughout the dermatology community.

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