• Health and Wellness
  • Community Impact
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • School of Medicine
Features & Articles

A Pitt project is addressing skin cancer disparities in Black communities

Two people in personal protective gear examine a patient's ear

A collaborative effort spearheaded by Erik Jaklitsch, a third-year medical student in the School of Medicine, and dermatologist Alaina James has been making waves in the fight against skin cancer disparities, particularly in Black communities.

Their journey began as a conversation on a rural bus ride through Honduras, where Jaklitsch, James and other med students provided dermatological services to underserved populations. Inspired by their experiences abroad, they sought to spread awareness back home in Pittsburgh about acral lentiginous melanoma, a lethal form of skin cancer disproportionately affecting Black individuals.

Their work didn’t go unnoticed. A paper published in the Journal of the National Medical Association in February underscored the initiative's efficacy, highlighting the pivotal role of community-driven interventions in mitigating health care disparities.

“Acral lentiginous melanoma is a devastating disease often associated with delayed diagnosis and poor health outcomes,” said Alice Lin, an MD candidate in the School of Medicine and contributor to the project. “Promoting awareness of this type of skin cancer and education regarding the importance of regular skin checks is key to improving early detection and prognosis.”

Once back at Pitt, they developed a project grounded in community engagement to address the critical need for better awareness within marginalized populations, where delayed diagnoses of melanoma often contribute to dire health outcomes.

They collaborated with community leaders, including organizations like Sisters PGH, to create and distribute an educational pamphlet designed to empower individuals with lifesaving knowledge. Pitt Med students Jaklitsch and Lin also used questionnaires to test recipients’ knowledge before and after the intervention.

Their distribution efforts, spanning health fairs and five community sites across Pittsburgh, saw more than 750 pamphlets disseminated, marking a tangible step toward bridging health care gaps. These sites included Pitt’s Community Engagement Centers in Homewood and the Hill District.

“It can seem kind of scary or impossible to get a traditional dermatology appointment, but discussing other avenues to access and empowering individuals to take charge of their own health was really great on a person-to-person basis,” Jaklitsch said. “Actually seeing efficacy through our data was just the cherry on top.”

Looking ahead, Jaklitsch envisions an expansion of their educational initiatives into multimedia platforms, leveraging videos to amplify their message and broaden their reach — a process already in progress abroad with the next year’s iteration of the Honduras brigade.


— Donovan Harrell, photo provided by Erik Jaklitsch. Pitt Med student Jaklitsch and Alaina James examine a patient in Honduras.