MONDAY, Jan. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Recent declines in death rates due to the skin cancer melanoma among white Americans appear to be limited to those with higher levels of education, researchers have found.

The findings reveal a widening education-related disparity in melanoma death rates and highlight the need for early-detection strategies to effectively target high-risk, low-educated whites, the American Cancer Society researchers said.

The investigators noted that overall melanoma death rates among white men and women aged 25 to 64 in the United States have been declining since the early 1990s, but it hasn't been known if death rates among whites might vary depending on a person's socioeconomic status, a term used to describe their levels of income and education.

To examine the issue, the researchers reviewed death certificates from 26 states and found that melanoma deaths declined about 10 percent between 1993-1997 and 2003-2007 in both men and women.

However, reductions occurred only among whites with at least 13 years of education, and there were actually slight increases among those with the least education. As a result, the education-related gap in melanoma death rates rose by nearly 52 percent in men and by almost 36 percent in women between 1993-1997 and 2003-2007, the investigators found.

The study was published in the Jan. 16 online edition of the journal Archives of Dermatology.

"To our knowledge, this is the first study to document this education gap in melanoma mortality trends among non-Hispanic whites in the U.S.," study leader Vilma Cokkinides said in an American Cancer Society news release.

"The reasons for the widening of the educational gap in mortality rates are not yet understood, but we do know the cornerstone of melanoma control is recognizing the signs of melanoma early. Lower socioeconomic status is associated with suboptimal knowledge and awareness of melanoma, inadequate health insurance, and lower rates of skin self-examination or physician screening," she explained.

The researchers said there's a need for more vigilant primary and secondary melanoma-prevention education campaigns that target high-risk people with low socioeconomic status and the doctors who care for them.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about melanoma.