According to the American Cancer Society, “the lifetime risk of getting melanoma is about one in 50 for whites, one in 1,000 for blacks, and one in 200 for Hispanics.”
Melanoma cases in the United States have been growing in recent decades showing a “greater than 60 percent increase over the past 30 years” among whites, according to the National Cancer Institute. In 2010, an estimated 68, 130 individuals were reported to have melanoma.
The last three decades have seen a dramatic rise in melanoma cases among non-Hispanic white females as well. Incidence has more than doubled.
Studies have shown that young white women who are more affluent, in particular, have a higher risk of developing melanoma.
A study, published in the March 2011 Archives of Dermatology, explored the relationship between UV light exposure—and melanoma risk— and socioeconomic status (SES). Drawing on research from 3,800 females in California (aged 15-39, residing in affluent neighborhoods) researchers discovered that SES plays a significant role in the risk of developing melanoma. The findings reported that “those living in neighborhoods with the highest SES and UV-R categories had 80.0 percent higher rates of melanoma than those in neighborhoods in the lowest categories.” UV-R categories refers to the amount of UV light exposure typically received in a given geographical area.
While the connection between UV exposure and skin cancer incidence may not seem startling, this study provided new insight into the rising rate of a deadly—but preventable—disease. Contrary to former belief, the findings showed that environment demonstrated less of a melanoma risk factor than affluence. A combination of the two placed a higher risk, pointing to potential predictors that can come into play. Young, affluent women may have more leisure time and more resources—including the use of tanning beds in addition to sun-bathing in natural light. Younger skin, too, may be more vulnerable to the harsh rays of the sun.
Other Melanoma Risk Factors
While the above findings reveal potential predictors of melanoma, there are various risk factors associated with developing the disease, which include:
- fair skin, light eyes, and red or blond hair color
- sunny climates or at high altitudes
- long-term exposure to high levels of strong sunlight
- history of one or more blistering sunburns during childhood
- use of tanning beds or artificial UV light sources
- family history of close relatives with melanoma
- weakened immune system
- presence of atypical moles or multiple birthmarks
- age: though found in younger people, melanoma is more likely to occur with age
Having one or more of these risk factors does not necessarily indicate that a person will develop melanoma.