Several sociological factors appear to contribute to current skin cancer incidence, according to a recent literature review by researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. The research was published in the International Journal of Dermatology.

Skin cancer is a biological process promoted by mutagenesis brought on by factors such as ultraviolet (UV) radiation, but incidence of this category of cancers has been rising over time, explained the researchers. “There is increasing acceptance of the role social factors play in cancer incidence and mortality.”  

For this review, published studies that focused on the relationship between sociocultural factors and skin cancer, identified through a search of the PubMed database, were evaluated. Keywords used to identify relevant articles ranged from terms related to skin cancer types (eg, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma) and a variety of terms related to sociological factors (eg, human migration, race and ethnic relations, socioeconomics, and culture).

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Multiple factors related to demographics and/or sociology were found to be possible contributors to skin cancer incidence. The overall increase in life expectancy over several decades was identified as a possible component, noting increases in skin cancer incidence in older age groups.

Some identified factors centered on environmental conditions, such as arsenic levels in groundwater. Other factors included occupations that expose people to increased levels of UV radiation, such as jobs requiring outdoor work in sunlight and airplane pilots, who face the additional risk of increased exposure to cosmic radiation.  

Patterns of migration of human populations are considered possible factors. For example, the migration of people from Northern Europe to Australasian coastal areas, where UV radiation levels are higher, would increase skin cancer incidence. However, interbreeding between different races created variations in susceptibility to skin cancer.

Cultural factors that contribute to increased incidence include gender-related patterns of behavior (eg, tanning bed use, sunscreen use, and clothing styles), frequent travel to tropical destinations by people of northern latitudes, and an increase in participation in outdoor sports and leisure activities.

“The skin cancer epidemic cannot be seen as a purely biological phenomenon; rather, it should be appreciated as stemming in great part from a complex set of sociobiological variables,” the researchers concluded.


Asadi LK, Khalili A, Wang SQ. The sociological basis of the skin cancer epidemic. Int J Dermatol. Published online January 12, 2022. doi:10.1111/ijd.15987