Melanoma Risk Higher for Wealthy Women

In young white females, higher socioeconomic status is linked with increased melanoma risk, according to new research published online in Archives of Dermatology. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, killing an estimated 8,700 people in the US in 2010.

Investigators looked at 3,800 non-Hispanic white women and adolescents between the ages of 15 and 39 living in California who had been diagnosed with melanoma between 1988 and 1992 or between 1998 and 2002. They discovered that subjects living in the most affluent neighborhoods were almost six times more likely to be diagnosed with the disease than those in the poorest neighborhoods. In areas with the highest exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR), women and teens in the neighborhoods with the highest socioeconomic status (SES) were 73 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those living in the lowest SES neighborhoods. In fact, affluence was surprisingly much more strongly linked to melanoma than living in a high-UVR neighborhood.

Previous studies suggest several possibilities for the findings, above all the greater access among wealthier groups to recreational activities that involve the kind of intermittent, intense UV exposure and potential sunburn associated with melanoma. "Affluent women have been reported to have more leisure time, during which they may pursue outdoor activities such as gardening, playing sports, or walking," noted the authors. They also singled out indoor tanning and sunny vacations as leisure activities associated with affluence, intermittent intense exposure, and melanoma. People in higher economic groups, they said, "may travel more frequently [on vacation] to high-altitude or low altitude destinations in which UV radiation exposure is greater, or they may actively participate in natural and/or artificial tanning practices [indoor tanning]."

Despite the disparities found at different levels of affluence, the data showed that the females at all levels had significant increases in melanoma incidence. Between 1980 and 2004, annual incidence among young women in the US increased by 50 percent. The researchers cautioned that everyone, regardless of affluence, age or skin color, should take precautions to help prevent melanoma. To learn more about your risk of skin cancer, take our Fitzpatrick Skin Type Quiz to find out your skin type. For information on how to protect your skin every day, see our Prevention Guidelines.