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Is UV radiation exposure correlated with cancer?

Posted on: May 2, 2012   by  Dr William Grant


A study published online by the International Journal of Cancer on April 26 found incidence rates of 12 types of cancer inversely correlated with solar erythemal UV doses in July.

 Lin SW, Wheeler DC, Park Y, Cahoon EK, Hollenbeck AR, Michal Freedman D, Abnet CC. Prospective study of ultraviolet radiation exposure and risk of cancer in the U.S. Int J Cancer. 2012 Apr 26.

The study drew from the National Institutes of Health-AARP (NIH-AARP) cohort of 450,934 white, non-Hispanic subjects aged 50-71 years. During up to nine years of follow-up to the end of 2006, 75,917 cases of cancer were identified. The UVB index was solar erythemal UV incident at the surface in July determined from the NASA satellite instrument, Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) between 1978-1993 and 1996-2005. Erythemal UV includes the UVB region for vitamin D production, but also extends into the UVA region where no vitamin D is produced. Participants in the study were from six states California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania and two metropolitan regions (Atlanta and Detroit).

Those with cancer were divided into four quartiles of July erythemal UV dose with approximately equal numbers of cases. Many cancer risk-modifying factors such as BMI, physical activity, and smoking were shown to be nearly equally present among those in the four quartiles. However, the authors admitted that there could be unaccounted for confounding factors not included in the study, such as moving from the residential location at time of enrollment.

The 12 types of cancer are bladder, colon, kidney, lung, pancreas, pleura, prostate, rectal, thyroid cancer, diffuse large B-cell, T-call, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In addition, non-significant inverse correlations were also found for gall bladder, larynx, small intestine, and stomach cancer and follicular lymphoma. Increased risk of lip cancer (nonsignificant) and melanoma and other non-epithelial skin cancer (significant) provided support for the UV index used. These findings largely support the findings in many ecological studies. 1

Surprisingly, cancers of female organs, breast, ovary and uterus, were not inversely correlated with the UV index. A possible reason is that women spend less time in the sun than men. Other studies have found significant inverse correlations for solar UVB doses for men but not women such as an ecological study of cancer mortality rates in California in the period 1950-64.2

As the authors note, this study provides additional strong support for the role of vitamin D in reducing risk of cancer as no other factor has been proposed to explain the link between solar UVB irradiance and cancer risk reduction, and there is good support for vitamin D reducing the risk of cancer in other studies.


1.    Grant WB. Ecological studies of the UVB–vitamin D–cancer hypothesis; review. Anticancer Res. 2012;32(1):223-36.

2.    Grant WB. An ecological study of cancer mortality rates in California, 1950–64, with respect to solar UVB and smoking indices. Dermatoendocrinol., epub April 2012

3.    Lin SW, Wheeler DC, Park Y, Cahoon EK, Hollenbeck AR, Michal Freedman D, Abnet CC. Prospective study of ultraviolet radiation exposure and risk of cancer in the U.S. Int J Cancer. 2012 Apr 26. doi: 10.1002/ijc.27619. [Epub ahead of print]

2 Responses to Is UV radiation exposure correlated with cancer?

  1. JBG

    “Increased risk of…melanoma and other non-epithelial skin cancer (significant)…”

    So sunshine is found to be associated with increased melanoma after all?

  2. David Arcangel

    Response to JBG. We need to be very careful when looking at sunshine vs. skin cancers including melanoma. The sun and the radiations it produces are very powerful and can be extremely dangerous if used carelessly, just as are many items we humans use in everyday life. The sun should be used in a responsible manner.

    Our skin is a wonderful and complex organ. However, one should not spend eight hours in the sun on a July day at the beach if he hasen’t been exposed to the sun all Winter. You keep doing this year after year and your risk factor for melanoma will go up. Give your skin a chance to build up the protection it needs. Yes, it needs protection from the sun that probably causes melanoma.

    Why do some people get melanoma? My take. Besides the irresponsible ones, some are allergic to the sun just as some folks are to antibiotics or milk or whatever. Their bodies can not build up the protection (tanning) it needs from the radiation. Because some people die from an allergic reaction from antibiotics, should we all quit taking antibiotics when treating an infection?

    Please don’t fear the sun, respect it. It’ s our life souce. WE have lived with it for millions of years.

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