The usual summer exodus to warmer shores by air, road or sea will be limited for all of us this year with travel restrictions, border closures, quarantine considerations and restricted places on planes and boats due to coronavirus and enforced social distancing measures. We might like to think that there aren’t the same health risks when staying in the UK but it’s still important to remember some basics.
The impact of global temperature increases
We only have to look at the ‘Mediterranean level’ temperatures during the spring lockdown or the devastating impact of the Australian bushfires just before the global pandemic hit to feel the impact of global warming. Conversely there are some clear environmental benefits to us all being grounded, ranging from the crystal-clear waters of Venice, the reduced pollution around the Taj Mahal to the animals ‘reclaiming’ the streets!1
The met office have reported that the average global temperatures have risen by more than 1°C since the 1850s with 2015 to 2018 being the hottest years ever recorded.2
The main concerns the met office state are that while it does feel lovely to enjoy the outdoors on a hot sunny day, especially when we have been stuck at home, a warming planet leads to many other changes in our local and global climate such as heatwaves, changing rainfall patterns and sea levels rising leading to floods, droughts, and fires.2 They predict that our UK warm and dry spells are only set to increase, with the hottest temperature ever recorded in the UK in Cambridge on 25 July last year, where the temperature hit 38.7°C (101F).3,2
The met office warns that if we don’t cut global emissions by the end of the century, we could be living with a 4°C increase in average tempratures. So while the spring lockdown with its significant reduction in travel and industry has had a devastating economic impact, it has simultaneously slowed down the environmental impacts. Only time will tell if the positive impact of this is lasting, significant and sustainable in the UK and around the world.2
Skin cancer risks
As well as the larger health risks of increasing flooding and fires and the inability to grow crops globally and locally, it is our personal health that is also at risk by the increasing temperatures. It’s easy to forget the strength of the sun in the UK when we are just out and about in our gardens or walking in the local parks, and we tend to be less vigilant with our skin protection regimes in these circumstances. However we only need a prolonged period of UV exposure to develop skin abnormalities. The met office states that heatwaves, like that of summer 2018 are now 30 times more likely to happen due to climate change and by 2050 are expected to happen every other year.2
Skin cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, and globally it rises by two to four per cent a year.4
There are two main categories of skin cancer: melanomas and non-melanomas (NMSCs).4
In the UK, NMSCs are the most common and are responsible for around 147,000 new cases each year, generally affecting more men than women and the elderly more than the young. However it is worth noting that in the UK melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, could be prevented by protecting yourself in the sun and not using sunbeds in almost 9 out of 10 cases, and that getting sunburnt just once every 2 years can triple your risk of melanomas.5
The 2 most common types of NMSCs are:
SCC can be cured by surgical removal if detected early, but if it’s left untreated and the cancer cells spread it results in the death of 70-89% of patients.4
We all love a sunny day and need some sun as it is the main source for obtaining vitamin D, but it’s important to enjoy the sun safely while you’re out and about. In the UK, the sun’s UV rays are at their strongest between 11am and 3pm, from early April to late September. During this time, it is strong enough to cause sunburn so protecting yourself with sunscreen, shade or being covered up is paramount.5 Cancer Research UK suggests that around 9 minutes of lunchtime sunlight each day in the UK would be enough for people with lighter skin tones to get enough vitamin D; for those with darker skin tones the time needed is nearer 25 minutes.7
A useful measure to go by is when the UV Index is 3 or more, as the sun is strong enough to cause damage for some skin types so take care and protect your skin, especially if you burn easily.5 The Met Office provide a daily UV index for the UK which can be useful to check as well as the weather, if you intend to spend lots of time outdoors.6
In 2019 Dentists’ Provident paid dentists over £30,000 for the time they had to take away from the surgery due to malignant cancers of the skin including the lips.8
Any time away from the surgery could cause further issues not just in potentially losing confidence or clinical ability, and being financially compromised, but the cancer could affect your ability to use your hands or communicate.
So while we enjoy our summer holidays closer to home or even at home, it’s important to remember the simple advice of staying in the shade, using sun protection, limiting UV exposure time and above all avoiding sunburn.
References available on request.
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