Sun, UV and cancer risk

Do UVA and UVB sun rays increase cancer risk?

The majority of skin cancer cases are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and, increasingly, from sunbeds. Between 2 and 3 million skin cancers occur globally each year, and rates are rising. Melanoma, which is the least common but most serious type of skin cancer, causes the majority of deaths from the disease. The risk of melanoma rises with age, but it is increasingly one of the most common cancers among young people.

UVA and UVB sun rays and skin cancer

Most cases of skin cancer could be prevented by avoiding overexposure to UV rays. UVA and UVB are the two main types of sun rays, and both cause skin cancer by damaging the DNA in our skin cells. Some groups of people are more at risk of the skin damage that leads to cancer than others, including children and those with fair skin or red or light-coloured hair. Sunburn also increases the risk of skin cancer – getting burnt just once every two years can triple your risk of melanoma. So if you’ve had sunburn in the past, you need to do more to protect your skin in the future.

The best ways to enjoy the sun safely and protect yourself from the damage that could lead to cancer are not staying in the sun too long, especially between 11am and 3pm between March and October; applying high-factor sunscreen frequently; and wearing a hat, sunglasses and clothes that cover your arms and legs. It’s important to protect your skin even when you already have a tan. Avoid using sunbeds or tanning booths. Fake tan is safer than using sunbeds, but melanotan injections are illegal and unsafe.

Vitamin D

Some people can get enough Vitamin D by enjoying the sun safely and, as it is also found in foods, by eating a healthy diet. However, in the UK there is new advice that adults and children over the age of one should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D, particularly during autumn and winter. People who have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency are being advised to take a supplement all year round.


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