Geographic variation in breast cancer mortality in the United States: a hypothesis involving exposure to solar radiation

Prev Med. 1990 Nov;19(6):614-22. doi: 10.1016/0091-7435(90)90058-r.


Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence suggests that vitamin D may play a role in reducing breast cancer risk. Lack of exposure to ultraviolet sunlight can increase the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency. This deficiency may place some populations at higher risk for breast cancer. The association between total average annual sunlight energy striking the ground and age-adjusted breast cancer mortality rates in 87 regions of the United States was evaluated. Annual age-adjusted mortality rates for breast cancer varied over a 1.8-fold range, from 17-19 per 100,000 in the South and Southwest United States to 33 per 100,000 in the Northeast; the overall U.S. rate was 27.3 per 100,000. Risk of fatal breast cancer in the major urban areas of the United States was inversely proportional to intensity of local sunlight (r = -0.80, P = 0.0001); multiple regression with stratospheric ozone measurements, r = -0.82, P = 0.0001). Vitamin D from sunlight exposure may be associated with low risk for fatal breast cancer, and differences in ultraviolet light reaching the United States population may account for the striking regional differences in breast cancer mortality. The ecological nature of this study is emphasized, and the possibility that an indirect association with dietary and socioeconomic factors could explain these findings is discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ozone / analysis
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Sunlight*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Urbanization
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / complications*
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / epidemiology
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / etiology


  • Ozone