Rise in Deadly Skin Cancers Among Young Women is Linked to Wealth

By UCSF News Office | May 11, 2011

What's fashionable, but sometimes fatal?

Sun tanning, apparently -- at least among well-off young white women. In the United States, more than 90 percent of the most deadly skin cancers -- malignant melanomas -- occur in the white population. Among young women the incidence is rising most rapidly. The risk of melanoma already has more than doubled among girls and women ages 15 to 39 over the past three decades.

Now a study led by researchers at UCSF and the Cancer Prevention Institute of California concludes that young women are at highest risk for malignant melanoma if they live in neighborhoods that are both more well-to-do and sunnier. But the researchers also found that melanoma incidence increased at all rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.

The scientists who completed the study, now published online in the Archives of Dermatology, call for more effective education and prevention programs to limit UV exposure and reduce melanoma risks.

Fourth-year UCSF medical student Amelia Hausauer helped devise the research project, statistically analyzed data, and took the lead in writing it up for publication.

"In an era when much of cancer surveillance is improving and mortality is decreasing, we see a consistent increase in melanoma among young women," Hausauer says. "It is disturbing because this is a fairly young population that doesn't typically develop cancer nor die from cancer."

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