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A Qualitative Exploration of Latinos’ Perceptions About Skin Cancer: the Role of Gender and Linguistic Acculturation

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Latinos have the highest rate of skin cancers among U.S. minorities. Despite a rising incidence of melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—and greater disease burden, Latinos tend to have poor awareness of skin cancer risk factors which may inhibit preventive action. We expanded on prior work by qualitatively examining potential moderators (i.e., gender, acculturation) of skin cancer perceptions among Latinos from El Barrio in Harlem, New York City. Four focus groups stratified by language (English/Spanish) and gender were conducted. Discussions were recorded, transcribed, and coded using thematic analysis. Thirty-eight self-identified Latinos (32 % male) participated. Across groups, median age was 35 years; 50 % completed <high school degree, 82 % had annual incomes ≤$29,999, and 55 % were born in Mexico. Mean acculturation level was 8.5 (SD = 3.9, range = 4–20). Major themes included (1) knowledge of common skin cancer risk factors, (2) acknowledgment of personal risk although lighter-skin individuals are at greater risk, and (3) awareness of effective risk reduction methods, despite the presence of fatalistic beliefs. Compared to males, females discussed tanning norms and appearance-based factors, identified children as vulnerable, highlighted the benefits of sun exposure, and wanted more information. Few linguistic acculturation patterns were noted; English speakers questioned the carcinogenic effect of sunscreen and reported more skin cancer-related physician discussions than Spanish speakers. Despite generally low acculturation, Latinos correctly identified skin cancer risk factors and agreed that it is preventable with engagement in risk-reducing behaviors. Future educational interventions must capitalize upon and reinforce such beliefs and address fatalistic perceptions which may hinder prevention efforts.

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This work was supported by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Survivorship, Outcomes, and Risk 2012 Goldstein Award (PI: JLH) as well as the MSK’s Cancer Center Support Grant/Core Grant (P30 CA008748), which provides partial support for the Behavioral Research Methods Core Facility used in conducting this investigation. Dr. Rodríguez was supported by a training grant (T32 CA009461) to Jamie Ostroff, PhD. We would like to acknowledge all focus group participants for their valued contributions.

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Correspondence to Vivian M. Rodríguez.

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Our study was approved by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Institutional Review Board and has therefore been performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments. All participants provided their informed consent prior to their inclusion in the study.

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Rodríguez, V.M., Shuk, E., Arniella, G. et al. A Qualitative Exploration of Latinos’ Perceptions About Skin Cancer: the Role of Gender and Linguistic Acculturation. J Canc Educ 32, 438–446 (2017).

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