Environment, Health and Safety Online
The site for free, objective information you can use!
This page provides a quick overview of the major problems linked to UV exposure: skin cancer (melanoma and non-melanoma), other skin problems, cataracts, and immune system suppression. Understanding these risks and taking a few sensible precautions (described in other UV Index fact sheets) will help you to enjoy the sun while lowering your chances of sun-related health problems later in life.
|FACTS AND FIGURES|
|There has been an 1,800 percent rise in malignant melanoma since 1930. ||One American dies of skin cancer every hour.||One in five Americans develops skin cancer.||People get 80 percent of their lifetime sun exposure by the age of 18.|
|UVA vs. UVB|
|There are two types of UV radiation, UVA and UVB. UVB is usually associated with sunburn while UVA is recognized as a deeper penetrating radiation.|
The most obvious result of too much sun is sunburn, which involves skin redness and sometimes tenderness, swelling, blistering, fever, and nausea. Although some skin types prevent individuals from burning, everyone is at risk for other UV-related health effects.
Some people may develop bumps, hives, blisters, or red blotchy areas as an allergic reaction to sun exposure. Certain drugs, perfumes, and cosmetics also can make some people sensitive to the sun.
Over time, exposure to the sun and severe sunburns can lead to skin cancer. The most common places for skin cancer to develop are on those body parts exposed to the sun such as the face, neck, ears, forearms, and hands.
The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. All three types can be curable if you detect them in their early stages. To help recognize potential problems, conduct periodic self-examinations and watch for growths that meet one of the 'ABCDs' of melanoma. Be aware of any unusual skin condition, especially a change in the size or color of a mole or other darkly or irregularly pigmented growth or spot; scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or change in the appearance of a bump or nodule; spread of pigment from the border into surrounding skin; and change in sensation including itchiness, tenderness, or pain.
Basal cell carcinomas are tumors that usually appear as small, fleshy bumps or nodules. Squamous cell carcinomas appear as nodules or as red, scaly patches. Malignant melanomas may appear without warning as a dark mole or other dark spot in the skin.
MelanomaMelanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is also one of the fastest growing types of cancer in the U.S. Many dermatologists believe there may be a link between childhood sunburns and malignant melanoma later in life. Melanoma cases in the U.S. have almost doubled in the past two decades, with at least 32,000 new cases and 6,900 deaths estimated for 1994 alone. The rise in melanoma cases and deaths in America is expected to continue.
All three types can be curable if you detect them in their early stages. To help recognize potential problems, conduct periodic self-examinations and watch for growths that meet one of the 'ABCDs' of melanoma.
Be aware of any unusual skin condition, especially a change in the size or color of a mole or other darkly or irregularly pigmented growth or spot; scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or change in the appearance of a bump or nodule; spread of pigment from the border into surrounding skin; and change in sensation including itchiness, tenderness, or pain.
There are two primary types of non-melanoma skin cancers:
|Asymmetry: One half of the growth doesn't match the other half. |
|Border irregularity: The edges of the growth are ragged, notched, or blurred. |
|Color: The pigmentation of the growth is not uniform. Shades of tan, brown, and black are present. Dashes of red, white, and blue also may appear. |
|Diameter: Any growth greater than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser) is cause for concern. |
If you notice any changes in the appearance of moles or freckles, contact a dermatologist.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology has cautioned that excess exposure to UV radiation can cause a painful burn of the cornea. Chronic eye exposure to UV radiation may increase the incidence of the development of spots that could result in blindness.
Scientists have found that sunburn can alter the distribution and function of disease-fighting white blood cells in humans for up to 24 hours after exposure to the sun. Repeated exposure to UV radiation may cause more long-lasting damage to the body's immune system. Mild sunburns can directly suppress the immune functions of human skin where the sunburn occurred, even in people with dark skin.
Looking for more detail?
The UV index page
How the UV index is calculated
Back to top