Fashion trends and socioeconomic factors played a major role in the rise of melanoma cases over the past century, reveals a new study.
Research study conducted by investigators in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center surmised that early diagnosis and improved reporting practices do not fully account for the steady rise in cases of melanoma. They set out to explore extenuating factors that might also have contributed to the increase in reported cases in the U.S.
They authors analyzed clothing styles, social norms, medical paradigms, perceptions of tanned skin, economic trends and travel patterns.
David Polsky, MD, said that in the early 20th century, sunshine became widely accepted as treatment for rickets and tuberculosis, and was considered to be good for overall general health.
People also began to enjoy more leisure time and to favor swimwear and sportswear that progressively covered less skin. Voices that raised concern about the dangers of UV exposure were largely ignored.
Another contributing factor, the researchers concluded, has been the reversal in attitude about tanned skin, which became a sign of the leisurely upper class quality of life and good health. Graphs tracking the incidence by year and percentage of estimated skin exposure show that these developments rose in parallel with the rise in melanoma cases in the U.S.
The study, however, did cite one positive trend, down under. Australia, widely considered the "skin cancer capital of the world" according to Dr. Polsky, has managed to turn things around, possibly with the help of a public education campaign and a change of view about tanning.
The study is published in the issue of the American Journal of Public Health.