Occupational sunlight exposure and melanoma in the U.S. Navy

Arch Environ Health. 1990 Sep-Oct;45(5):261-7. doi: 10.1080/00039896.1990.10118743.


Melanoma is the second most common cancer, after testicular cancer, in males in the U.S. Navy. A wide range of occupations with varying exposures to sunlight and other possible etiologic agents are present in the Navy. Person-years at risk and cases of malignant melanoma were ascertained using computerized service history and inpatient hospitalization files maintained at the Naval Health Research Center. A total of 176 confirmed cases of melanoma were identified in active-duty white male enlisted Navy personnel during 1974-1984. Risk of melanoma was determined for individual occupations and for occupations grouped by review of job descriptions into three categories of sunlight exposure: (1) indoor, (2) outdoor, or (3) indoor and outdoor. Compared with the U.S. civilian population, personnel in indoor occupations had a higher age-adjusted incidence rate of melanoma, i.e., 10.6 per 100,000 (p = .06). Persons who worked in occupations that required spending time both indoors and outdoors had the lowest rate, i.e., 7.0 per 100,000 (p = .06). Incidence rates of melanoma were higher on the trunk than on the more commonly sunlight-exposed head and arms. Two single occupations were found to have elevated rates of melanoma: (1) aircrew survival equipmentman, SIR = 6.8 (p less than .05); and (2) engineman, SIR = 2.8 (p less than .05). However, there were no cases of melanoma or no excess risk in occupations with similar job descriptions. Findings on the anatomical site of melanoma from this study suggest a protective role for brief, regular exposure to sunlight and fit with recent laboratory studies that have shown vitamin D to suppress growth of malignant melanoma cells in tissue culture. A mechanism is proposed in which vitamin D inhibits previously initiated melanomas from becoming clinically apparent.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melanoma / epidemiology
  • Melanoma / etiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel*
  • Occupations
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Sunlight / adverse effects*
  • United States