Wealthy young women are more likely than their poorer counterparts to develop a certain type of skin cancer, according to a new study.

The study looked at young women and teens with the highest socioeconomic status in California and found them to be nearly six times more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma than women with the lowest socioeconomic status. Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, is caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation, according to the Mayo Clinic.

And among women who had high ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure, there were 73 percent more diagnoses of melanoma in those from the highest socioeconomic neighborhoods than from those in the lowest socioeconomic neighborhoods, the study said.

That means socioeconomic status is one of the main factors in diagnosis of the cancers, said Dr. Sherrif F. Ibrahim, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, who was not involved with the study.

Young women who come from rich backgrounds can afford to go tanning more or spend a lot of time at the beach, which increases skin cancer risks, Ibrahim noted.

But “we also know that people who are less privileged take longer to get to the doctor, don't get access to doctors or don't get access to specialty doctors like dermatologists,” Ibrahim told MyHealthNewsDaily. So it may not necessarily be that women of higher socioeconomic status get more cancers; rather, they may just be diagnosed more than less-wealthy people are, he said.

The study was published online today (March 21) in the journal Archives of Dermatology.

Analyzing risk

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco reviewed health data from 3,800 non-Hispanic white females in the California Cancer Registry between the ages of 15 and 39.

Of those women, 3,842 were diagnosed with melanoma between 1988 and 1992 and between 1998 to 2002, the study said.

The researchers found that 80 percent more young women were diagnosed with melanoma among those who lived in the highest socioeconomic neighborhoods and had the highest exposure to UV radiation, compared with women living in the lowest socioeconomic neighborhoods who reported the lowest UV exposure.

The dangers of UV rays

Even though melanoma diagnoses are highest in those of higher socioeconomic status, instances of the cancer are increasing in young women regardless of class or wealth. Melanoma cases have more than doubled over the last three decades among non-Hispanic white girls and women, according to the study.

Skin cancer risk from UV radiation exposure is cumulative — meaning your body keeps a running meter of all the sun you've ever gotten, Ibrahim said.

That radiation causes genetic mutations, he said. “Most of the time, our bodies can correct [for the mutations], but sometimes they slip through the machinery that the body has to fix it, and you get pre-cancers and cancers,” Ibrahim said.

Therefore, it's important that people understand the dangers of going to a tanning salon or sitting out on the beach without any sun protection, he said. And the higher the SPF sunscreen, the better, Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim also said people should learn the ABCDE mnemonic for identifying suspicious moles that could be cancerous: Assymetry of mole growth, irregular Borders, Color variation, Diameter larger than 6 millimeters, and Elevation of the mole. They are all warning signs to be aware of, he said.

Pass it on: Young, wealthy women are more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma than women with low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Follow MyHealthNewsDaily staff writer Amanda Chan on Twitter @AmandaLChan.