Climate Change May Increase Skin Cancer Risk

Climate Change May Increase Skin Cancer Risk

Climate change may be contributing to the increasing rates of skin cancer observed worldwide, as depleting ozone layers continue to result in people being exposed to higher levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Excessive exposure to UV radiation from the sun (or sunlight) is the main environmental risk factor for developing skin cancer. It is estimated that about 86% of all skin cancers in the UK are attributable to excessive exposure to sunlight. Exposure to artificial sources of UV radiation from indoor tanning beds/lamps is the second most important cause of skin cancer.

While most skin cancers have a good prognosis, melanoma, which accounts for up to 5% of skin cancers, has an aggressive prognosis. As a result of more exposure to the sun, the frequency of all skin cancers increases, as well as the frequency of melanoma.

Melanoma Rates have More Than Tripled Since the 1980s

  • There are around 16,700 new melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK every year, that's 46 every day (2016-2018).
  • Melanoma skin cancer is the 5th most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 4% of all new cancer cases (2016-2018).
  • 1 in 36 UK males and 1 in 47 UK females will be diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer.
  • 86% of melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK are preventable.
  • Incidence rates of skin cancer (cutaneous malignant melanoma) have increased by more than 550% in males and 250% in females since the early 1980s in England – according to a new study by Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS).
  • Incidence rates for melanoma skin cancer are projected to rise by 7% in the UK between 2014 and 2035, to 32 cases per 100,000 people by 2035.

It’s important to consider what environmental influences may be impacting the increased incidence of skin cancer. When you think about skin, it’s really our largest organ and it is our primary interface with the environment. So skin is particularly prone to and susceptible to influences – and therefore disease – that may be environmentally induced.

The Earth’s average temperature is rising as a result of climate change. Not only can heat promote carcinogenesis directly in the skin, but it also has a simpler effect that can impact skin cancer risk: when it is warmer outside, people tend to wear less clothing and spend more time outdoors, again absorbing UV radiation.

Melanoma Skin Cancer Risk Factors

England can be mostly attributable to an increasing trend in intermittent high-intensity recreational UV radiation exposure due to lifestyle and societal changes.

For example,

  • sunbathing,
  • holidaying in a place with strong sunlight,
  • the proliferation of indoor tanning studios,
  • budget holiday industry and airlines,
  • an increasing trend in travel to sunnier locations and
  • use of sunbeds.

A person’s risk of developing cancer depends on many factors, including age, genetics, and exposure to risk factors (including some potentially avoidable lifestyle factors).

It’s essential to recognize that climate change has been happening and will continue to happen. It is affecting our health already and will continue to do so with greater magnitude for future generations. Individual patients who have concerns about these effects on themselves or their family members should discuss that with their physician.

Melanoma Skin Cancer symptoms oncotrust abcde

Let's Remember Melanoma Symptoms

The first sign of melanoma is often a new mole or a change in the appearance of an existing mole.

Normal moles are generally round or oval, with a smooth edge, and usually no bigger than 6mm in diameter.

But size is not a sure sign of melanoma. A healthy mole can be larger than 6mm in diameter, and a cancerous mole can be smaller than this.

See a GP as soon as possible if you notice changes in a mole, freckle, or patch of skin, particularly if the changes happen over a few weeks or months.

It can also develop underneath a nail, on the sole of the foot, in the mouth, eye, or in the genital area, but these types of melanoma are rare.

At Oncotrust our 7-Day Diagnosis Pathway can help patients exclude a diagnosis of lung cancer quickly and safely. Please visit our contact page today to submit your questionnaire or book your Private GP Appointment


1. EU FP-7 project BASE – Bottom-Up Climate Adaptation Strategies towards a Sustainable Europe. Published in Climate-ADAPT 22 Jul 2016

2. Brielle Benyon. PGA Tour Golfer Justin Thomas Urges People to Check for Melanoma, ‘One Life to Live’ and ‘As the World Turns’ Actress Marnie Schulenburg Dies from Cancer and More. May 20, 2022

3. Melanoma skin cancer statistics. Access date 20 May 2022