Epidemiological support for an hypothesis for melanoma induction indicating a role for UVA radiation

Photochem Photobiol. 1999 Aug;70(2):243-7.


An hypothesis for melanoma induction is presented: UV radiation absorbed by melanin in melanocytes generates products that may activate the carcinogenic process. Products formed by UV absorption in the upper layers of the epidermis cannot diffuse down as far as to the melanocytes. Thus, melanin in the upper layer of the skin may be protective, while that in melanocytes may be photocarcinogenic. Observations that support this hypothesis include: (1) Africans with dark skin have a reduced risk of getting all types of skin cancer as compared with Caucasians, but the ratio of their incidence rates of cutaneous malignant melanoma to that of squamous cell carcinoma is larger than the corresponding ratio for Caucasians. (2) Albino Africans, as compared with normally pigmented Africans, seem to have a relatively small risk of getting cutaneous malignant melanomas compared to nonmelanomas. This is probably also true for albino and normally pigmented Caucasians. (3) Among sun-sensitive, poorly tanning persons, frequent UV exposures are associated with increased risk of melanoma, whereas among sun-resistant, well-tanning persons, increased frequency of exposure is associated with decreased melanoma risk. (4) It is likely that UVA, being absorbed by melanin, might have a melanoma-inducing effect. This is in agreement with some epidemiological investigations which indicate that sun-screen lotions may not protect sufficiently against melanoma induction. The relative latitude gradient for UVA is much smaller than that for UVB. The same is true for the relative latitude gradient of cutaneous malignant melanoma as compared with squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. Under the assumption that the average slopes of the curves relating incidence rates with fluences of carcinogenic UV radiation are similar for melanomas and nonmelanomas, these facts are in agreement with the assumption that UVA plays a significant role in the induction of melanomas in humans. This is in agreement with the experimental results with Xiphophorus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cyprinodontiformes
  • Epidemiologic Factors
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melanoma / epidemiology
  • Melanoma / etiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology
  • Photobiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Skin Pigmentation
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects*