Background: An inverse relationship between solar ultraviolet-B (UV-B) exposure and non-skin cancer mortality has long been reported. Vitamin D, acquired primarily through exposure to the sun via the skin, is believed to inhibit tumor development and growth and reduce mortality for certain cancers.
Methods: We extend the analysis of this relationship to include cancer incidence as well as mortality, using higher quality and higher resolution data sets than have typically been available. Over three million incident cancer cases between 1998 and 2002 and three million cancer deaths between 1993 and 2002 in the continental United States were regressed against daily satellite-measured solar UV-B levels, adjusting for numerous confounders. Relative risks of reduced solar UV-B exposure were calculated for thirty-two different cancer sites.
Results: For non-Hispanic whites, an inverse relationship between solar UV-B exposure and cancer incidence and mortality was observed for ten sites: bladder, colon, Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma, other biliary, prostate, rectum, stomach, uterus, and vulva. Weaker evidence of an inverse relationship was observed for six sites: breast, kidney, leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, pancreas, and small intestine. For three sites, inverse relationships were seen that varied markedly by sex: esophagus (stronger in males than females), gallbladder (stronger in females than males), and thyroid (only seen in females). No association was found for bone and joint, brain, larynx, liver, nasal cavity, ovary, soft tissue, male thyroid, and miscellaneous cancers. A positive association between solar UV-B exposure and cancer mortality and incidence was found for anus, cervix, oral cavity, melanoma, and other non-epithelial skin cancer.
Conclusion: This paper adds to the mounting evidence for the influential role of solar UV-B exposure on cancer, particularly for some of the less-well studied digestive cancers. The relative risks for cancer incidence are similar to those for cancer mortality for most sites. For several sites (breast, colon, rectum, esophagus, other biliary, vulva), the relative risks of mortality are higher, possibly suggesting that the maintenance of adequate vitamin D levels is more critical for limiting tumor progression than for preventing tumor onset. Our findings are generally consistent with the published literature, and include three cancer sites not previously linked with solar UV-B exposure, to our knowledge: leukemia, small intestine, and vulva.