Cancer Causes & Control

, Volume 23, Issue 5, pp 717–726 | Cite as

Obesity and the incidence of skin cancer in US Caucasians

  • Salma Pothiawala
  • Abrar A. Qureshi
  • Yunhui Li
  • Jiali HanEmail author
Original paper



Limited information is available on the potential link between obesity and either melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancers.


To conduct a prospective study to examine the association between obesity and the risk of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.


Using pooled data from two large national cohorts in the US, the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS), we prospectively examined the incidence of melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and basal cell carcinoma (BCC) among participants grouped according to body mass index (BMI).


Compared to participants with an updated BMI in the normal range, those with a BMI in the obese range had a 32 % lower risk of developing SCC, and those with a BMI in the morbidly obese category had a 37 % lower risk of developing SCC. The decrease in SCC risk was limited to women. Compared to participants with a BMI in the normal range, those with a BMI in the obese range had a 19 % lower risk of developing BCC, and those with a BMI in the morbidly obese category had a 29 % lower risk of developing BCC. The risk of developing melanoma did not statistically differ by BMI grouping. The results were similar using BMI measurements obtained 10 years prior to the diagnosis of skin cancer.


Obesity appears to be inversely associated with the development of non-melanoma skin cancers. Obesity is most likely a surrogate marker for lack of chronic sun exposure, which is a risk factor for non-melanoma skin cancers.


Skin cancer Melanoma Squamous cell carcinoma Basal cell carcinoma Obesity BMI Prospective cohort 



We are indebted to the participants in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study for their dedication and commitment. We thank the following state cancer registries for their help: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming. Departmental Funding, and NIH CA87969 and CA055075.

Conflict of interest

No conflicts of interest to disclose.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Salma Pothiawala
    • 1
    • 2
  • Abrar A. Qureshi
    • 2
    • 3
  • Yunhui Li
    • 3
  • Jiali Han
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous SurgeryUniversity of South Florida College of MedicineTampaUSA
  2. 2.Clinical Research Program, Department of Dermatology, Brigham and Women’s HospitalHarvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  3. 3.Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s HospitalHarvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  4. 4.Department of EpidemiologyHarvard School of Public HealthBostonUSA

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