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28-07-2011 | Article

Skin cancer on the rise among young Californian women


Free abstract

MedWire News: Rates of skin cancer among girls and young women living in California have increased dramatically over the past 25 years, most probably due to more frequent tanning, study results suggest.

The study also found that skin cancer rates are rising fastest among girls and women classified as being of "high socioeconomic status (SES)," perhaps because more affluent individuals have more leisure and vacation time and consequently more sun exposure.

"Health education to limit the social desirability of tanning could build on the success of similar efforts to curb smoking initiation among young persons," suggest Christina Clarke (Cancer Prevention Institute of California, Fremont, USA) and colleagues writing in the Archives of Dermatology.

"To limit the recent increase in melanoma among girls and women, multidisciplinary prevention efforts should target those living in high SES and high ultraviolet radiation (UV-R) neighborhoods for whom melanoma rates were 80.0% greater than in other areas."

It is well-known that skin cancer is on the increase in the USA but patterns in specific population groups, as well as the underlying reasons for the rise, are less well understood.

To investigate, Clarke and colleagues analyzed information from a variety of sources, including the California Cancer Registry, the US Census, and US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration databases.

They found that 3800 non-Hispanic White women aged between 15 and 39 years were diagnosed with melanoma in California between December 1988 and December 2002. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer and is predominantly associated with exposure to UV-R.

For each of the women, the researchers determined their level of affluence (based on factors such as educational level, income, and occupation), and likely exposure to sunlight (based on meteorological data).

As expected, Clarke's team found that rates of skin cancer increased over the study period. Most tumors were detected at an early stage and occurred in women aged 30 years and over, although rates increased over time in all age groups.

They also found that the most affluent group of girls and women were around six times more likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer as the least affluent individuals. This was true for both younger and older individuals.

Finally, the researchers found that rates of skin cancer had risen much more sharply among affluent women and those with greater sun exposure than among less affluent women and those with less sun exposure.

Taken together, these findings suggest that public health efforts to prevent skin cancer "should target these groups and include strategies to limit ambient sun exposure and SES-related behavioral risk factors," suggest Clarke and colleagues.

They add: "Future research should seek to understand if increases in tanning-bed use directly explain these trends because this activity is easier to regulate than other behaviors, such as outdoor tanning practices."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Joanna Lyford