An estimate of premature cancer mortality in the U.S. due to inadequate doses of solar ultraviolet-B radiation

Cancer. 2002 Mar 15;94(6):1867-75. doi: 10.1002/cncr.10427.


Background: There are large geographic gradients in mortality rates for a number of cancers in the U.S. (e.g., rates are approximately twice as high in the northeast compared with the southwest). Risk factors such as diet fail to explain this variation. Previous studies have demonstrated that the geographic distributions for five types of cancer are related inversely to solar radiation. The purpose of the current study was to determine how many types of cancer are affected by solar radiation and how many premature deaths from cancer occur due to insufficient ultraviolet (UV)-B radiation.

Methods: UV-B data for July 1992 and cancer mortality rates in the U.S. for between 1970-1994 were analyzed in an ecologic study.

Results: The findings of the current study confirm previous results that solar UV-B radiation is associated with reduced risk of cancer of the breast, colon, ovary, and prostate as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Eight additional malignancies were found to exhibit an inverse correlation between mortality rates and UV-B radiation: bladder, esophageal, kidney, lung, pancreatic, rectal, stomach, and corpus uteri. The annual number of premature deaths from cancer due to lower UV-B exposures was 21,700 (95% confidence interval [95% CI], 20,400-23,400) for white Americans, 1400 (95% CI, 1100-1600) for black Americans, and 500 (95% CI, 400-600) for Asian Americans and other minorities.

Conclusions: The results of the current study demonstrate that much of the geographic variation in cancer mortality rates in the U.S. can be attributed to variations in solar UV-B radiation exposure. Thus, many lives could be extended through increased careful exposure to solar UV-B radiation and more safely, vitamin D3 supplementation, especially in nonsummer months.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Black People
  • Cholecalciferol / therapeutic use
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Female
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Ultraviolet Rays*
  • White People


  • Cholecalciferol