Though inconsistent, there is evidence that sun exposure is associated with reduced breast cancer risk. Previous studies have been conducted in geographical regions with seasonal variation in UV radiation, including periods of low to no exposure, and among participants mostly of European descent. Puerto Rico has no significant seasonal fluctuation, with continuous exposure to very high UV radiation.
We conducted a population-based case–control study of breast cancer among women in metropolitan San Juan, Puerto Rico, examining a cumulative sun exposure index (SEI) based on a comparison of reflectance of sun-exposed and non-exposed skin. A chromameter was used to measure skin reflectance and estimate the difference between constitutive (unexposed) and facultative (exposed) skin pigmentation in 307 cases and 328 controls. Breast cancer risk factors were ascertained with interviewer-administered questionnaires. OR and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were estimated with unconditional logistic regression.
Adjusted breast cancer odds were lower for the highest tertile of the SEI (ORadj = 0.47; 95% CI, 0.29–0.74). Results were similar within strata of estrogen receptor status. In analyses stratified by constitutive skin pigmentation, among participants with darker skin color, breast cancer risk was lower with more sun exposure (ORadj = 0.33; 95% CI, 0.16–0.70).
We found lower risk of breast cancer associated with greater sun exposure in a population living with high, continuous sun exposure. This beneficial finding should be placed in the context of other effects of sun exposure.
Sun exposure is a modifiable factor that may contribute, directly or indirectly, to lower breast cancer risk.