Climate change may contribute to the increasing rates of skin cancer seen around the world, as ozone depletion continues to expose people to higher levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
“It is important to consider what environmental influences can impact the increased incidence of skin cancer. When you think of the skin, it is really our largest organ and it is our main interface with the environment. The skin is therefore particularly prone and sensitive to influences – and therefore to diseases – that can be induced by the environment, ”said Dr. Eva R. Parker, assistant professor of dermatology at Vanderbilt University, in an interview with CURE ®.
Impact of climate change on the skin
Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC), a chemical that has been used as a refrigerant, propellant, and solvent, has been definitely linked to climate change, as it later destroys stratospheric ozone. While the Montreal Protocol treaty has phased out the use of CFCs, the effects of the chemical are, unfortunately, long-lasting.
“The (stratospheric) ozone layer is what I like to think of as the Earth’s wide-brimmed sun protection hat, and this ozone layer absorbs and prevents a large amount of UVB radiation from reaching the surface. from Earth, ”Parker said.
The average temperature of the Earth is increasing due to climate change. According to Parker, heat can not only promote carcinogenesis directly in the skin, but it also has a simpler effect that can impact the risk of skin cancer: when it is hotter outside, people tend to wear less clothes and spend more time outdoors, absorbing UV again. radiation.
Air pollution – which, like climate change, is a result of the burning of fossil fuels – can also increase rates of skin cancer, Parker explained. When fossil fuels burn, they release carbon dioxide and other pollutants like particulate matter and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which have been linked to other types of cancer, like kidney and liver cancer.
“So you have man-made sources of air pollution like the burning of fossil fuels, but you also have natural sources like forest fires. These chemicals interact with the skin through various mechanisms… They activate complex molecular pathways, including the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, which then triggers a number of bad things in the skin, including inflammation and carcinogenesis. Parker said.
Decrease the risk of skin cancer and climate change
There are steps people can take to reduce their risk of developing skin cancer from exposure to UV rays. Actions include:
- Avoid being outside during peak sunshine hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
- Wear protective clothing and hats
- Use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and reapply every 90 minutes
Regarding exposure to air pollution, Parker suggests that people check the air quality before spending time outdoors. This can be done through various websites or even smartphone apps.
Finally, Parker said everyone has a role to play in preventing climate change. There are some simple changes that people can make in their lives that can help them. These include:
- Eat less meat
- Replace traditional bulbs with LED bulbs
- Support climate-friendly businesses and policies
“It is important to recognize that climate change has happened and will continue to happen. This is already affecting our health and will continue to do so on a greater scale for future generations, ”Parker said. “Patients who are concerned about these effects on themselves or their family members should discuss them with their doctor. “
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