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January 18, 2004

Psoriasis Occurs Less Frequently in African Americans
Than Caucasians According to New Penn Study

(Philadelphia, PA) -- Psoriasis is a genetic skin disease believed to be triggered when signals sent by the immune system become faulty and speed up the growth cycle in skin cells. The additional cells form raised patches of thick, scaly, red plaques which may appear on hands, elbows, lower back, feet, scalp, or genitals. The patches often cause moderate to intense burning or itching and can have a serious impact on the quality of the patient's physical and emotional life.

In order to better understand and address varying health needs, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine launched a population-based study to measure the incidence and burden of psoriasis among African Americans, compared with that of Caucasians. The study was done in collaboration with the National Psoriasis Foundation and is published in the January issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

The population sample included over 27,000 U.S. residents, 18 years of age or older, who were randomly selected and interviewed via telephone. Joel M. Gelfand, MD, assistant professor of Dermatology, noted that the study is the largest of its kind in the United States, and the first to address the frequency of psoriasis in African Americans.

Results showed that African Americans are approximately 52% less likely than Caucasians to have been given a diagnosis of psoriasis by a physician. This chronic condition however, is common in both groups (1.3% in African Americans compared to 2.5% in Caucasians.). The lower prevalence of the condition in African Americans may be due to genetic or environmental factors and remains an issue still to be investigated. Differences were also found in the size of the area affected by psoriasis, which was generally larger in African Americans.

Although not statistically significant, African Americans were found to be less likely to get information about psoriasis online or from advocacy organizations; as well as less likely to discuss the condition with family members or friends who also have psoriasis. Both groups voiced similar effects of the condition on their day-to-day lives, sought care from general practitioners and dermatologists at the same rate, and showed similar satisfaction levels with treatment. Women were also more likely than men to have been diagnosed with the condition.

Other members of the research team are Penn colleagues in the Department of Dermatology and the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics David J. Margolis, MD, PhD and Joe Kist, MD; as well as Robert S. Stern, MD, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Tamar Nijsten, MD, University Hospital, Antwerp; Steven R. Feldman, MD, PhD, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem; John Thomas, MS, LaunchBox, LLC, Portland; and Tara Rolstad, MBA, National Psoriasis Foundation, Portland.

This study was supported by grants from the Dermatology Foundation, the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal, and Skin Diseases, Amgen/Wyeth, Biogenidec, and the American Skin Association.

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PENN Medicine is a $2.7 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and high-quality patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System (created in 1993 as the nation’s first integrated academic health system).

Penn’s School of Medicine is ranked #3 in the nation for receipt of NIH research funds; and ranked #4 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report’s most recent ranking of top research-oriented medical schools. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

Penn Health System is comprised of: its flagship hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, consistently rated one of the nation’s “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital; Presbyterian Medical Center; a faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty satellite facilities; and home health care and hospice.

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