Women, Wealth, and Melanoma Risk

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.


Melanoma is the most lethal form of skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, this disease claims the lives of approximately 9000 Americans each year. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light definitely increases the risk of melanoma. Of the various skin types, fair-skinned people tend to have the highest risk of being affected by these rays.

A new study performed by the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, and recently published online in the Archives of Dermatology, indicates that the incidence of melanoma has more than doubled during the last thirty years in young, white women. Co-researcher Christina A. Clarke, PhD., MPH, of Stanford University and the Cancer Prevention Institute, noted that it has commonly been assumed that living in UV-sunnier areas and UV exposure levels would be more important predictors of melanoma risk than socioeconomic status. However, according to the study, both socioeconomic status and exposure to UV-sunnier areas seem to be strongly correlated with melanoma risk. Affluent and more educated women seem to be at greatest risk, possibly because they are able to spend more leisure time outdoors than lower socioeconomic women. Researchers examined data from 3,800 adolescent white girls and young women ranging in age from 15 to 39 years, during two five-year periods, from 1988 to 1992, and a decade later from 1998 to 2002. The incidence of melanoma cancer was correlated with U.S. census information to determine the socioeconomic status of the women in the study based on household incomes and education levels for their communities. Measures of UV radiation exposure in the areas in which the women lived were obtained from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and also reviewed as part of the study.

The analysis focused primarily on the association between UV light exposure, occurrences of melanoma, and socioeconomic status of young white women. A statistically significant increase in melanoma rates was found only among women in the three highest socioeconomic levels during the time period studied. Women residing in the highest income areas were nearly six times as likely to have malignant melanoma as those in the poorest areas. The researchers concluded that level of wealth was indicated as being the greatest risk factor for developing melanoma, instead of level of UV exposure in a woman’s area of residence.

The researchers suggest that cultural preferences in higher-income groups for tanning, having the time to tan, money to pay for tanning beds, as well as leisure time for sun-bathing during midwinter vacations, predispose this population to an increased risk for melanoma.

Although moderate exposure to sunlight promotes good health and the natural formation of Vitamin D in the skin, everyone should protect themselves from excessive UV light. Shield your eyes with sunglasses that offer protection against UVA and UVB rays, cover exposed skin with appropriate clothing with sleeves (preferably made of natural fibers which “breathe”), and wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and neck from the sun. Remember that the hottest rays tend to occur between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00p.m., depending on where you live. Try to minimize your exposure during this time as much as possible.



  1. Dyess, Drucilla. “Wealthy Young White Women at Greater Risk of Developing Melanoma.” Health News, Inc. March 22, 2011.
  2. FairWarning.org: http://www.fairwarning.org/2011/03/wealthy-women-more-likely-to-suffer-melanoma-study-says/: Source: Environmental Safety and Health, News & Notes. March 23, 2011.
  3. “FDA Considers New Cancer Warning for Indoor Tanning.” (Source: http://www.fairwarning.org/2010/03/fda-considers-new-cancer-warning-for-indoor-tanning/)
  4. “Risks: Women, Wealth and Melanoma” in ‘Science Times: Health section. The New York Times. March 29, 2011. p. D6.
  5. Study: http://archderm.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/archdermatol.2011.44
  6. WebMD Health News. (Source: http://www.webmd.com/melanoma-skin-cancer/news/20110321/melanoma-rates-may-be-higher-for-the-rich)




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