Jenna Lester, MD, founded the “skin of color” clinic with the intention of creating an environment where people of color can feel that they’re getting accurate and empathetic diagnoses and treatment for their skin conditions. Tumors, rashes, and pigmentation manifest differently in people of darker skin tones and can be more challenging to accurately identify. At her clinic, Dr. Lester examines a wide spectrum of skin and hair problems, which includes everything from eczema to cancer.
Skin cancer is a particular concern among people of color, and although the cancer is more common in white skinned people, people of color are still susceptible to the disease, and their rates of survival are much lower than white patients. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, African Americans have a 73 percent five-year survival rate compared to 91 percent for Caucasians.
This stark contrast of diagnosis rates can be attributed to systemic problems in medical training, and the fact that most dermatologists are white and not taught to analyze and diagnose dark skin.
However, Dr. Lester wants to change all that. “In dermatology we have many diagnostic maneuvers, but our primary is visual. It’s looking at the skin and recognizing a pattern,” said Lester for the San Francisco Chronicle. “If we’re not trained to recognize things in skins of color, we may miss diagnoses.”