27 July 2006

Sun kills 60 000 a year

The UN health agency says up to 60 000 deaths a year worldwide are caused by too much exposure to the sun.

The UN health agency says up to 60 000 deaths a year worldwide are caused by too much exposure to the sun.

Up to 90 percent of the global burden of disease from melanoma and other skin cancers are estimated to be caused by exposure to UV radiation, according to a new World Health Organisation report called Global Burden of Disease of Solar Ultraviolet Radiation. The report identified nine adverse health effects from excess exposure to UV rays.

"This global assessment of the health risks of UV radiation provides a good basis for public health action. We all need some sun, but too much sun can be dangerous - and even deadly," said Maria Neira, the Geneva-based WHO's director for public health and the environment.

UV can cause skin cancer
Though UV radiation does have beneficial effects - mainly the production of vitamin D when exposed to the shorter wavelength UVB rays - too much UV radiation can lead to a variety of health problems, including skin cancer and eye cataracts.

Of the 60 000 yearly deaths caused by excessive exposure to sun, some 48 000 are caused by malignant melanomas and 12 000 by skin carcinomas, according to the report.

The three main adverse effects of overexposure to UV rays are malignant melanoma, a severe cancer that still carries a significant risk of death despite improvements in treatment; squamous cell carcinoma of the skin, another type of malignant skin cancer which generally progresses less rapidly than melanoma and is less likely to cause death or ongoing disability; and basal cell carcinoma, which appears predominantly in older people.

In addition, UV radiation leads to sunburn, ageing of the skin, can cause the eye to become opaque, cause fleshy growths on the surface of the eye, reactivate cold sores and lead to the rare squamous cell carcinomas of the eye.

Only a little sun for vit D
The report said in most cases minimal casual exposure to UV rays should be enough to maintain vitamin D at levels necessary to prevent bone diseases such as osteoporosis, and that many UV-related illnesses and death can be avoided through simple preventative measures.

The WHO suggests people should limit time in the midday sun, seek shade when the sun's rays are most intense, wear protective clothing like hats and sunglasses, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of sun protection factor 15 and higher, avoid tanning lamps and protect children from the sun. – (Sapa-AP)

Read more:
Skin Centre

July 2006



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