Rich Young Women Get More Skin Cancer

What do you think of this?



Adolescent girls and young women living in wealthy communities were more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma in a new study of skin cancer cases in California.

The authors think that might be because wealthier women may be spending lots of time out in the sun – at home and on vacation – and frequenting tanning beds.

“It’s frightening actually,” Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, a dermatologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health.

“The message of practicing safe sun is just not getting through to the people that need to heed the warning,” said Tanzi, who also heads the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, D.C.

Melanoma is the most lethal form of skin cancer, killing almost 9,000 people in the U.S. last year, according to the National Cancer Institute. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light is known to increase the risk of melanoma.

Cases of melanoma have been rising in young white women in the United States in recent decades, more than doubling since the early 1970s.

In the current study, Dr. Christina Clarke of the Cancer Prevention Institute of California and her colleagues analyzed data from a registry of more than 3,800 melanoma cases in white California girls and women aged 15 to 39. They paired the cancer statistics with information from the U.S. census to determine the socioeconomic status of each of the women, based on household incomes and education levels in their neighborhoods.

Rates of melanoma were significantly higher in women in the highest socioeconomic categories according to the findings, which are published in the Archives of Dermatology.

In the wealthiest 20 percent of California neighborhoods, four or five out of 100,000 young white women were diagnosed with melanoma over the 5-year period from 1998 to 2002. For the poorest group, the rate was less than one in 100,000 over the same period.

Compared to data from a decade earlier (1988 to1992), rates of melanoma increased in white girls and young women as a whole – but the increases were most obvious in wealthier women.

Wealthy women weren’t more likely to get melanoma just because they lived in the sunniest areas of California. When the authors calculated how much UV light women in different neighborhoods were exposed to, they found that the wealthiest women living in areas with lots of UV radiation were still diagnosed with melanoma almost 75 percent more often than the poorest women who lived in communities with the most UV radiation.

Clarke said that it also wasn’t likely that wealthy girls would be diagnosed with melanoma more often just because they have better access to health care. Invasive melanoma, she told Reuters Health, “is going to get very serious very quickly” – it’s not something a woman would live with for years while thinking she was healthy.

A combination of outdoor sun exposure and tanning beds were probably to blame for higher rates of melanoma in wealthier girls, Clarke said. Mid-winter trips to Mexico or Hawaii, for example, require money and can be dangerous after skin has been covered up for months, she said.

Clarke said that wealthy girls especially are surrounded by the message that being tanned all year round is cool – they even have Katy Perry singing about it. But the new findings, she said, “should really cause us to think, ‘how cool is a tan if it puts lighter skinned women at risk of deadly cancer?'”

One solution, Clarke said, could be bans on tanning beds for young girls and more education for wealthy girls and women to try to make tanning “uncool.”

“The thought is that ‘well, it can’t happen to me,'” Tanzi said. “It’s the invincible nature of a teenager. Tanning is still seen as somewhat okay to do.”

The message that needs to get across, Tanzi said, is that “no tan is safe.”



  1. #1 by hein vandenbergh on March 24, 2011 - 4:20 am

    Ah, yes, the underwhelming sense of NOT being surprised….

    What I’d now like to see is a study such as this comparing the IDLE rich white women with those rich white women who have a job, or one where educational level is compared rather than that nebulous measure ‘socio-economic status’.

    Better still: compare RICH white men with RICH white women, adjusted appropriately for statistical confounders. Of course comparing poor white men and women will be a lay-down misere, with men winning the Melanoma Stakes by a half a straight. Waste no time and money on that one!

  2. #2 by Tony Dicker on March 24, 2011 - 4:48 am

    This sort of info has been known for a while. Higher socioeconomic group is a higher risk. The office worker was always at higher risk than the labourer. The debate was about intermittant sunshine compared to constant sunshine.

  3. #3 by Lishuang Chen on March 24, 2011 - 11:30 am

    Yes true, just like high SE group is at higher risk of breast cancer/Bowel cancer and prostate cancer due to refined food, high protein/fat content or even ready access to nice red wine. and cheese and salami …

    My observations from my patients over the limited number of years is that genetic susceptiblity is very significant in who gets melanoma or any other skin cancers.

    As some of you may have noticed over many years of skin cancer practice that some people with celtic white “Nicole Kidman” type of skin, who were born bred in rural NSW or coastal towns and had numerous sun burn during childhood/teenage years, in the ripe age of 70-80s seldom get any sort of skin cancers and few AKs. On the otherhand, not uncommonly you see some type 2 skin office workers in their 30-40s repeatitively having BCCs or even melanomas.

    The late 26 year old “Wes” who died of melanoma ( TV ads) had only had 20 or so years of sun burn but had an aggressive melanoma compared to many of my elderly patients who had lived thru the “coco nut oil sun roast” era and still going strong.

    I personally feel that genetic susceptibility plays a major role in deciding who gets melanoma after just a little bit of sun burn. and who does not get melanomas at all no matter how much sun burn she/he had in the past. That is , a little of sun burn would easily trigger melanoma in a person who is gentically susceptible.

    My person view is that when genetic susceptibility is a controlled factor or fixed , then the level of sun exposure (be it accumulative, or intermittent ) may have a more clear impact on risk of skin cancer and melanoma.

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