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Eye color and the risk of skin cancer

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Abstract

Melanoma, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are the most common skin cancers. The incidence rates of all three types of skin cancers have increased in the past three decades. Light pigmentary traits have been recognized as one of the host risk factors for skin cancer, but findings on associations between eye colors and risk of skin cancers have been inconsistent.

We performed a prospective analysis to examine the association between eye colors and risk of skin cancers using the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS). Cox proportional hazard models were applied to estimate relative risks (RRs) and their 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Effect modifications due to hair color and skin reaction to sun were also examined.

The HPFS included 35,662 males. During a median follow-up of 19 years (1988–2012), 445 melanoma, 1123 SCC, and 7198 BCC cases were documented. Compared to those whose eye colors were dark or brown, participants with hazel/green/medium and blue/light colors had a 24% (RR = 1.24, 95% CI: 1.06–1.45) and a 19% (RR = 1.19, 95% CI: 1.01–1.41) higher risk of SCC, respectively. Similarly, a higher risk of BCC was observed in participants with hazel/green/medium eye colors (RR = 1.16, 95% CI: 1.09–1.23) and blue/light eye colors (RR = 1.17, 95% CI: 1.10–1.25). We did not find significant associations between eye color and risk of melanoma. Lighter eye color was associated with increased risks of SCC and BCC among those with dark hair colors (p for interaction ≤ 0.02).

In conclusion, in this large prospective study of men, we found that light eye colors were associated with higher risks of SCC and BCC, but not melanoma. Further studies are needed to confirm this association in other populations.

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Data availability

(data transparency): Information including the procedures to obtain and access data from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study is described at https://sites.sph.harvard.edu/hpfs/for-collaborators/.

Code availability

(software application or custom code): SAS software was used for all the data analyses in this study. The SAS code used in the current study is not publicly available due to the aforementioned data restrictions but will be available from the corresponding author upon request.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the participants and staff of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study for their valuable contributions, as well as the following state cancer registries for their help: AL, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, IA, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, NE, NH, NJ, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, WA, WY. The authors assume full responsibility for analyses and interpretation of these data.

Funding

The work was supported by the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (U01 CA167552). No funding supported study design and conduct; in the collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the preparation, review, or approval of the report; or in the decision to submit the article for publication.

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Correspondence to Eunyoung Cho.

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The present study used secondary data from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study in which no participant identifying information was included.

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Li, Y., Li, WQ., Li, T. et al. Eye color and the risk of skin cancer. Cancer Causes Control 33, 109–116 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10552-021-01508-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10552-021-01508-z

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