UV photography findings correlate with melanoma risk factors in children

August 1, 2011

Results of a study in adolescents showing a correlation between the severity of sun damage in ultraviolet (UV) photographs and phenotypic risk factors for malignant melanoma provides further support for using UV photography in sun-protection interventions, according to Ryan G. Gamble, M.D., who spoke at the 2011 annual meeting of the Society for Investigative Dermatology.

Key Points

Phoenix - Results of a study in adolescents showing a correlation between the severity of sun damage in ultraviolet (UV) photographs and phenotypic risk factors for malignant melanoma provides further support for using UV photography in sun-protection interventions, according to Ryan G. Gamble, M.D., who spoke at the 2011 annual meeting of the Society for Investigative Dermatology.

Analyses were then conducted to identify statistically significant differences by phenotypic risk factor and between subgroups within each risk factor category. In addition, linear regression analysis was performed to identify the role of individual characteristics as significant predictors of photodamage severity. The characteristics investigated were gender, race, hair color, eye color, facial freckling, skin color and nevus counts (total, facial and nonfacial); data for facial freckling and nevus counts were used to divide the population into tertiles for each category.

Results showed statistically significant associations between the photodamage scores and melanoma risk factors; mean scores for phenotypic characteristics that are melanoma risk factors, i.e., white non-Hispanic race, red hair, blue eye color, increased facial freckling, light skin color and higher nevus count, were significantly higher than those for other subgroups within each phenotypic characteristic category for both the standard visible and UV photographs. Findings of the linear regression analysis established that all of the melanoma risk factors made a statistically significant, independent contribution to the photodamage score for the UV photographs.

"The incidence rate for melanoma continues to rise rapidly in the United States. Sun-safety behaviors, including refraining from indoor tanning bed use, help decrease an individual's risk for melanoma," says Dr. Gamble, who performed the research as a medical student at the University of Colorado and is continuing his training as an internal medicine resident at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, Phoenix.

"However, sun-safe behaviors have not been widely adopted. Previous research has documented that UV photography depicting sun damage is effective in motivating sun-avoidance behavior in various populations, including middle school students," he says. "However, to our knowledge, there have not been any studies assessing the relationship between the severity of sun damage in these photographs and skin cancer risk factors.

"The results of our study indicate that the children whose UV photos look worse also have a higher risk for melanoma," Dr. Gamble says. "This finding validates the use of UV photography in sun-protection interventions and suggests it may be especially well-suited to target children with a high melanoma risk. We hope our research will serve as a translational study encouraging the use of UV photography in pediatric and dermatology offices as part of sun-protection interventions, especially for patients at high risk for skin cancer based on their phenotypic characteristics."

Dr. Gamble says the data from the study might also be used by practitioners for reference ranges in assessing sun damage on UV photographs, although the possibility that scores may differ depending on the software-scoring algorithm must be considered.