Skin cancer and summer: what’s the link?
With summer approaching, it is important to remember that exposure to the sun can seriously harm your skin, with as little as ten minutes of sun being enough to cause skin ageing and potentially deadly skin cancers. In this blog, let’s explore why the summer sun increases your risk of skin cancer. (Hint: it’s not because the weather is hotter!)
How does the sun cause skin cancer?
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted by the sun causes the vast majority of skin cancers. When your skin is exposed to UV rays (specifically UVA and UVB rays), the radiation damages the DNA within the cells. Over time this DNA damage accumulates and causes cell mutations which leads to uncontrolled cell growth. This is the hallmark of cancer.
Skin cancer typically starts in the epidermis (the top layer of the skin). There are various types of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Skin cancer can spread into other tissue and organs in the body and become fatal.
The sun is not the only cause of skin cancer, as Australia’s most common form of cancer can also be caused by genetic and environmental factors.
Did you know?
Just one peeling sunburn before age seven doubles your risk of developing skin cancer.
Is skin cancer more common in summer?
While skin cancer can develop any time of year – including winter – it may be “easier” to develop skin cancer in summer for several reasons.
UV levels are more intense during the summer months
Sun protection is required when UV levels reach 3 or higher. (This can be all year-round in some parts of Australia such as Queensland.) During summer, UV levels can reach 11+, which is “extreme” on the UV index. In these conditions just a few minutes of unprotected sun exposure can damage your skin and cause skin cancer.
You spend more time outside in summer
Warmer weather drawing people outside more often, combined with summer’s longer daylight hours, equals more prolonged and direct exposure to UV rays, in turn increasing the risk of skin cancer.
Skin is less covered up during summer
Most people tend to wear short sleeves in summer because the weather is warmer, which means the skin is less protected from the sun’s UV radiation.
Did you know?
You can still develop skin cancer all year-round, including during winter!
Is skin cancer easier to find in summer?
In summer, you may tend to wear lighter clothes that expose more skin, so you pay more attention to unusual growths. Therefore it may be easier for you to notice any new or changing lesions because your skin is more visible.
However, your doctor may find it easier to identify malignancies on your skin during the winter months when the signs and symptoms aren’t masked by your summer tan.
Year-round vigilance and routine self-exams are very important, as skin cancer is most treatable when caught in its earliest stages, no matter what time of year.
Does the summer heat cause skin cancer?
No, it is actually a misconception that the sun’s heat causes in skin cancer – in fact, the sun’s warmth and its cancer-causing UV radiation are unrelated! Contrary to popular belief, UV radiation cannot be seen (unlike sunlight) or felt (unlike heat).
The sun's UV radiation that causes skin cancer is fundamentally different from the sun's heat. UV radiation is a type of electromagnetic radiation that falls outside the visible light spectrum. When UV rays penetrate the skin, they can damage the DNA in skin cells, potentially leading to mutations that increase the risk of skin cancer. On the other hand, the sun's heat is a result of infrared radiation. While exposure to intense heat from the sun can lead to heat-related illnesses like heatstroke, it does not directly impact the DNA in the same way that UV radiation does.
How can I protect my skin from cancer in summer?
To reduce your risk of skin cancer all year-round, it is important to protect your skin from UV rays by wearing sunscreen, covering exposed skin, and seeking shade, especially during peak UV hours. Learn more about how to prevent skin cancer.
Additionally, regular skin examinations with a qualified doctor are key to early detection and successful treatment of skin cancer, for your peace of mind this summer.
If you get sunburnt this summer, here’s what to do next.