Sun still main cause of skin cancer

New report analysed 55 studies from around the world, comprising more than 13 million adults

A new World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) report has looked at whether diet, weight and physical activity affect the risk of developing skin cancer. The findings show that unlike many other cancers, your diet and exercise patterns do not appear to be strongly associated with your risk of skin cancer.

The report looked at a number of lifestyle factors including alcohol, obesity and coffee, but as there was a lack of strong evidence linking diet to skin cancer it means that the sun is still the number one cause of skin cancer. In total, this new report analysed 55 studies from around the world, comprising more than 13 million adults.

Nickie Murtagh, a skin cancer survivor, said: “Until recently, I usually forgot to wear sun cream, or didn’t apply it often enough. And I was too vain to wear hats because they didn’t suit me and left my hair all messed up. But I want to tell everyone – parents in particular – about the importance of protecting themselves from the sun, not just their children.

"Mums like me always look after everyone else, but they may fail to take care of themselves. I knew all about being safe from the sun, but my failure to apply that knowledge to myself has left me with a hole in my head and scarring to my leg”.

Susannah Brown, Acting Head of Research Interpretation, said: “We see this report as good news when it comes to diet, exercise and skin cancer.

“The evidence that overexposure to the sun causes skin cancer has been consistent for decades. However, many people still don’t protect themselves from the sun, putting themselves at increased risk of skin cancer. As the weather gets warmer, we want our report to remind people that there are simple but important steps they can take to prevent developing skin cancer.”

It is important for Brits to be safe in the sun; whether at home or abroad. The NHS has a number of sun safety tips which include spending time in the shade between 11am and 3pm during March to October, using at least factor 30 sunscreen, and covering up with suitable clothing including a hat and sunglasses.

The report also showed strong evidence that drinking water contaminated with arsenic increases the risk of skin cancer and consuming high-dose beta-carotene supplements is unlikely to have a substantial effect on the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer.

Melanoma, just one type of skin cancer, is the fifth most common cancer in the UK with more than 15,000 cases a year. However these stats exclude non-melanoma skin cancer cases due to issues with the reporting of non-melanoma skin cancer, making the number of skin cancer cases an underestimate.

While this report does not show an association between obesity and skin cancer, it is still a cause of at least 12 other types of cancer. One in two people will get cancer; however, around 40 per cent of cancer cases are preventable. After not smoking, eating a healthy diet, being more active each day and maintaining a healthy weight are the most important ways you can reduce your cancer risk.

The report will be available in full for free online after the embargo:

For more information contact: Maxine Lenza, Press and Communications Officer at WCRF on 020 7343 4235 or

Notes to editors:

About World Cancer Research Fund

World Cancer Research Fund is one of the world’s leading cancer prevention charities, and the only UK charity dedicated to funding life-changing research into the prevention of cancer through diet and lifestyle. We cut through the jargon to turn the latest global research on cancer prevention and survival into practical, straightforward advice and information, helping anyone who wants to reduce their risk of developing cancer to make fully informed lifestyle choices.

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