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Climate change and skin cancer: Case study of potential SunSmart application in Cornwall


Cornwall (SW England, UK) has a maritime climate and will experience significant changes in weather patterns over the coming decades. It is predicted that by 2050-2080 the local climate will be 2 to 3 °C warmer than now, both in winter and summer, and that there will be longer periods of hot and dry weather in spring and summer. Overall, levels of precipitation will be similar to now, but more concentrated in the winter months. In addition, it is predicted that extreme weather events will become more frequent, including heatwaves, storms, heavy rainfall, and cold spells. These changes will occur over the medium term, and are within the time frame of planning and development.

Due to the increase in temperatures, it is also likely that individual’s exposure to UV radiation will increase, and therefore the risk of developing skin cancer. The south west of England currently experiences the highest incidence of both malignant and non-malignant melanoma in the UK. Although there are no specific figures for Cornwall, given its draw as a holiday destination, exposure is likely to be high. A key outcome from the literature is the increased and continued risk of skin cancer in south west. This is highlighted by a series of public health campaigns to deliver messages regarding individual risk of exposure to UV, particularly in the summer months. The complex interactions between cloud cover, ozone depletion and higher UV levels are difficult to project, but some studies tentatively suggested summer UV irradiance will increase in the southern parts of the UK to approximately 12 Wm-2,  and/or a slight increase in current UV flux, up to 10% by the end of the century. Understanding how these climate induced effects on health may be influenced by socioeconomic dimensions is also considered, but adds further complexity and uncertainty to using predictive methods. For example, melanoma is currently increasing at a rate of 5% per annum in the UK, but this is largely attributed to individual changes in behaviour such as increased foreign travel and use of sunbeds. A study based on findings from mice suggested that carcinoma was 5.5% higher for every 1ºC increment in average temperatures, and basal cell carcinoma was 2.9% more common with every 1ºC increase. In this report, the costs of the SunSmart programme, which involves a range of actions to increase awareness of the risks of skin cancer and sun exposure, were considered. The SunSmart scheme costs £500k in England in 2010. Adjusting for population in Cornwall, this implies a cost of just under £5k for Cornwall.

Reference information

EU FP-7 project BASE – Bottom-Up Climate Adaptation Strategies towards a Sustainable Europe

Published in Climate-ADAPT Jul 22 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Sep 10 2022

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