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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

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Skin Cancer Danger: Not Just in Summer

Snow on the ground doesn't mean you don't have to worry about sun exposure. Sunburns -- and skin cancer -- can happen even in winter months.

The Skinny of Vulnerability continued...

Unfortunately for people down under, Australia is situated in an area of the planet that is closest to the sun in summertime, which means more intense UV exposure.

Exposure to the sun's harmful rays isn't limited to one area of the world, however. Each country's UV levels vary in different seasons, depending on their geography. And in a large place like the United States, the variables are even greater. The UV levels in Florida, for example, are different from those in Maine, explains Weinstock.

In addition, UV radiation doesn't necessarily depend on temperature or season, as more people get sunburned in Australia in the cooler days of fall and spring, says Craig Sinclair, chairman of The Cancer Council Australia's skin cancer committee. It is reportedly likely that UV light can cause more damage at this time because people don't normally think of sun protection during the fall and winter.

Again, this is not purely an Aussie phenomenon. Sinclair notes that worldwide, UV radiation goes up 3% for every 400 meters (about 1,312 feet) of altitude. Plus, UV light is reflected from snow (about 80%), and from clouds on overcast days. This could mean a double dose of exposure.

The heat is on. There are reports that the infamous hole in the ozone layer may contribute 2%-3% to Australia's skin cancer risk, although there is no direct evidence, says Slevin. Nonetheless, a World Meteorological Organization report that the ozone hole is growing faster this year than in previous years, and that it is as large as the all-time record of 28 million square kilometers (about 17.4 million square miles) set back in September 2000, can't be good news for Australia and other parts of the world.

The ozone layer usually acts as a natural barrier against the sun's damaging rays, and if the thinning of this protective substance isn't controlled, there is tremendous potential for the U.S. to be affected, says Weinstock. Right now, he says, the problem is probably having more of an impact on polar areas such as Southern Australia.

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