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Will Rising Temperatures Increase the Health Risk of Skin Cancer?

Paper Reviewed
Freedman, D.M., Kitahara, C.M., Linet, M.S., Alexander, B.H., Neta, G., Little, M.P. and Cahoon, E.K. 2015. Ambient temperature and risk of first primary basal cell carcinoma: A nationwide United States cohort study. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology 148: 284-289.

The most common type of non-melanoma skin cancer in the United States is basal cell carcinoma (BCC), with roughly some one million cases reported each year. Although it is rarely fatal, BCC is very costly in terms of health expenditures and often results in considerable skin and body disfigurement when treated.

Over the past few years concerns have been expressed that the number of BCC cases could grow in the future if the climate warms from increases in anthropogenic greenhouse gasses. And, therefore, the Interagency Working Group on Climate Change and Health, a U.S. government organization, has called for "elucidating the effects of ambient temperature on ultraviolet radiation-induced skin cancers, including the amplification of non-melanoma skin cancers" (Portier, 2010).

One of the first groups to respond to this challenge was Freedman et al. (2015), who investigated the relationship between temperature and BCC risk. Using survey data from the U.S. Radiologic Technologists Study (a large nationwide cohort that boasts participants from all 50 states), along with temperature and ultraviolet radiation (UVR) data from official U.S Government agencies, the team of seven researchers was able to "explore the association between long-term ambient temperature and subsequent BCC risk, while accounting for historic ambient UVR exposure, time outdoors, and other relevant factors." And what did their analysis reveal?

Freedman et al. report that "in this nationwide cohort study, we did not find a statistically significant trend in the relationship between average lifetime summer ambient temperature and BCC risk, after accounting for average lifetime summer ambient UVR exposure, average lifetime summer time outdoors, birth cohort, age, sex, BMI, and eye color." There was, however, a significant relationship between BCC risk and UVR exposure.

Portier, C.J., Thingpen, T.K., Carter, S.R., Dilworth, C.H., Grambsch, A.E., Gohike, J., Hess, J., Howard, S.N., Luber, G., Lutz, I.T., Maslak, T., Prudent, N., Radtke, M., Rosenthal, J.P., Rowles, T., Sandler, P.A., Scheraga, J., Schramm, P.J., Strickman, D., Trianj, J.M. and Whung, P. 2010. A human health perspective on climate change. A report outlining the research needs on the human health effects of climate change. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Posted 14 November 2016