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
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.