Changes to the West Midlands’ climate could mean we are sitting on a skin cancer time bomb, a meteorologist and local weather expert has warned.
A new study by researcher John Kings has revealed that the number of days with high UV radiation in has doubled over the past five years, as the region has warmed up.
Mr Kings, who has also headed the city’s meteorological office for over two decades, said that this meant there was a greater risk of sunburn and therefore skin cancer, particularly in children.
But the effects of this higher UV exposure will not be known for over a decade, Mr Kings warned. He said: "Children are outside three times longer than adults so, by the time they are 18 years old, their skin will have already been exposed to 80 per cent of the UV rays it will see.
"This means that the cause of skin cancer is more likely to occur as a child. But because skin cancer often takes some time to develop, we probably won’t know for 15 to 20 years just how many of them will develop it."
Using data from Birmingham’s weather centre, the study also shows that the number of hours hitting temperatures over 23 degrees Celsius has increased by a fifth since the 1950s.
Mr Kings said: "Whereas you use to see sunburn weather from 11am to 3pm in the afternoon, now it’s more common from 9am in the morning to 6pm at night.
Skin Cancer expert Lawrence Young, head of the Cancer Research UK Institute in Birmingham, welcomed Mr Kings’s findings and said they were "timely" given the recent publication of the Stern Report on climate change.
The report suggested that hotter summers - such as this year and in 2003 - could become the norm in 2020 as climate change takes effect.
Professor Young said: "The association of UV exposure with the development of malignant melanoma -the most aggressive form of skin cancer - is unarguable."
"If we are seeing more high UV days in the West Midlands, then we are certainly going to see more incidences of skin cancer.
"There have also been studies undertaken in Australia that suggest that skin cancer is linked to the amount of sun exposure received as a child. The risk also increases with the number of sunburn episodes over a lifetime – more than ten sunburn episodes, more than doubles the risk."
In the UK there are currently 8,000 melanoma cases diagnosed each year and 1,800 deaths. This is a year-on-year rising trend. Worldwide it is increasing faster than any other cancer with an approximate doubling of rates every ten to 20 years in countries with white populations.
Professor Young said that prevention was far better than cure and urged people to protect their skin from the sun.He said: "This is a nasty tumour. It can be cured by surgery if detected early, but it’s difficult to treat if it spreads."
Other findings of Mr Kings’ research show that, although maximum temperatures in the region have not increased by much, our summers are still getting warmer.
Mr King’s data also revealed the most dangerous months for UV radiation were May to July – much earlier in the year than many people believe.
Beat the heat – how to protect yourself against skin cancer:
• Don't sunbathe or use sunbeds to tan. Fake it!
• Avoid the sun as much as possible when it is strong.
• Cover up when you are out in the sunshine.
• On sunny days wear wide-brimmed hats that protect the face and neck. Young children should wear hats with neck protectors too.
• Use a high-factor sunscreen. Make sure you cover areas which are sometimes missed such as the lips, ears, around eyes, neck, scalp if hair is thinning, hands, and feet. Apply 20-30 minutes before going out into the sun and re-apply frequently. Sunscreens do not mean you can spend longer in the sun - if you tan, you have done some damage to your skin.
• It's not the heat that does the damage, it's the UV radiation in sunlight. So if you're skiing this winter, wear a hat, sunscreen, lip balm, and sunglasses when out in the snow.
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