Gay men are more likely to suffer skin cancer than straight men and it may be because they use sunbeds more, scientists say.
Rates of skin cancer were 8.1 – 8.4 per cent among gay and bisexual men compared to 6.7 for straight men in a group of more than 45,000 Americans.
However, gay and bisexual women were either at the same risk of skin cancer or lower compared with straight women, according to four year’s worth of questionnaires collected by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
UV ray exposure, and other risk factors, were not considered in this study. But the researchers note that smaller studies reported higher usage of indoor tanning beds among sexual minority men, which can cause skin cancer.
Rates of skin cancer were higher among gay and bisexual men compared to heterosexual men but lower among bisexual women than heterosexual women, the new study found
The study, published today in the journal JAMA Dermatology, is the largest to analyse how skin cancer rates vary depending on sexual orientation.
‘It’s absolutely critical that we ask about sexual orientation and gender identity in national health surveys; if we never ask the question, we’d never know that these differences exist,’ said corresponding author Dr Arash Mostaghimi.
‘When we look at disparities, it may be uncomfortable, but we need to continue to ask these questions to see if we’re getting better or worse at addressing them.
‘Historically, this kind of health variation was hidden, but we now recognize that it’s clinically meaningful.’
Dr Mostaghimi and colleagues leveraged data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) uses the BRFSS to collect information about American’s health-related risk behaviours.
About 450,000 adults in 50 states are interviewed by telephone by the BRFSS each year.
One of the questions they are asked – as well as about their sexual oreintation – is, ‘Has a doctor, nurse, or other health professional ever told you had skin cancer?’
Dr Mostaghimi and colleagues compared skin cancer rates among heterosexual men and women to rates in gay or bisexual men and women.
Rates of skin cancer were 8.1 per cent among gay men and 8.4 per cent among bisexual men, statistically higher than the rate of 6.7 per cent among heterosexual men.
Skin cancer rates were 5.9 per cent among lesbian women and 6.6 per cent among heterosexual women, which was not a statistically significant difference.
However, the rate of 4.7 per cent among bisexual women was statistically significantly lower than heterosexual women.
Dr Sarah Arron, associate professor of dermatology at the University of California said that ‘gay and bisexual men constitute a high-risk population for skin cancer’
The BRFSS survey did not collect information about risk factors for skin cancer, such as UV exposure, Fitzpatrick skin type (a measure of skin color and susceptibility to sun burn), HIV status and more.
However, a previous study by the University of California of nearly 200,000 adults in the US found that gay and bisexual men were up to six times more likely to take part in indoor tanning and twice as likely to have suffered skin cancer.
Dr Sarah Arron, associate professor of dermatology at the University of California said that ‘gay and bisexual men constitute a high-risk population for skin cancer’.
‘One likely cause of more skin cancer among gay and bisexual men is greater exposure to ultraviolet radiation caused by indoor tanning,’ she added.
The authors of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital research note that the data is based on self-reported skin cancer diagnoses, which have not been confirmed by a physician.
The findings may not apply to the whole of the US, either.
Dr Mostaghimi said: ‘As a next step, we want to connect with sexual minority communities to help identify the cause of these differences in skin cancer rates.
‘This is work that will need to be done thoughtfully but may help not just sexual minorities but everyone.’
Cancer Research UK’s health information manager Rachel Orritt told MailOnline: ‘Although this study does suggest that homosexual men might be at a higher risk of skin cancer, only a small difference was found between homosexual and heterosexual men.
‘No matter what your sexual orientation, you can reduce the risk of skin cancer by enjoying the sun safely and avoiding sunbeds.’
In the UK, around 147,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year. Around 13,500 new cases of the other most common type, melanoma, are diagnosed each year, according to Cancer Research.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. It is estimated that approximately 9,500 people in the US are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, the American Academy of Dermatology say.
Non-melanoma and melanoma cancers
Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. Non-melanoma skin cancer refers to a group of cancers that slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin.
The term non-melanoma distinguishes these more common types of skin cancer from the less common skin cancer known as melanoma, which can be more serious.
In the UK, around 147,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year. It affects more men than women and is more common in the elderly.
What causes non-melanoma skin cancer?
Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light is the main cause of non-melanoma skin cancer. UV light comes from the sun, as well as from artificial tanning sunbeds and sunlamps.
Other risk factors that can increase your chances of developing non-melanoma skin cancer include:
- previous non-melanoma skin cancer
- family history of skin cancer
- pale skin that burns easily
- large number of moles or freckles
- taking medicine that suppresses your immune system
- co-existing medical condition that suppresses your immune system
What causes melanoma?
Melanoma is caused by skin cells that begin to develop abnormally.
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is thought to cause most melanomas, but there’s evidence to suggest that some may result from sunbed exposure.
The type of sun exposure that causes melanoma is sudden intense exposure. For example, while on holiday, which leads to sunburn.
Certain things can increase your chances of developing melanoma, such as having:
- lots of moles or freckles
- pale skin that burns easily
- red or blonde hair
- a close family member who’s had melanoma
Excluding non-melanoma, melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK. Around 13,500 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year.
More than a quarter of skin cancer cases are diagnosed in people under 50, which is unusually early compared with most other types of cancer.
Over recent years, skin cancer has become much more common in the UK.
This is thought to be the result of increased exposure to intense sunlight while on holiday abroad.
More than 2,000 people die every year in the UK from melanoma.