As climate change causes hotter, dryer conditions for months on end, changing behaviours may not be enough to reduce exposure to ultraviolet (or UV) rays. Long term exposure to UV rays can increase the risk of skin cancer, a largely preventable disease. Many people are aware of the personal behaviours they need to take in order to stay sun safe; including wearing sunscreen, covering up, wearing hats and sunglasses and using sunscreen.
Rates of skin cancer are rising in British Columbia. About 1 in 7 people living in B.C. will develop skin cancer over their lifetime. To help prevent this rate from rising further, BC Cancer experts are entering new territory; working with governments at all levels to advise and make recommendations on purpose-built outdoor structures that would give communities relief from prolonged sun exposure.
"Climate change will very likely increase our exposure to UV over time," says Dr. Cheryl Peters, senior scientist for cancer prevention at BC Cancer and BC Centre for Disease Control. "We know lifetime exposure to UV radiation is a contributing factor to many skin cancer diagnoses. As the province heats up it's clear we need to begin making recommendations on prevention strategies that go beyond personal behaviour changes. We need to factor in sun safety as cities plan outdoor spaces."
Last year, BC Cancer began a year-long pilot project evaluating shade structures in playground areas. Results from earlier this year showed a 50 per cent reduction in UV exposure for children; reducing their risk of developing skin cancer in adulthood. These positive findings show that well-designed shade can be an effective skin cancer prevention strategy here in B.C.
"Stepping into the space where we're advising on policies or working with municipalities, is a new but necessary frontier for us," says Dr. Peters. "We're working with organizations, collaborating together and providing that expert input. From a population-based prevention tactic, we're being forward thinking and determining how we can make more of an impact protecting British Columbians from UV rays as we combat increasing skin cancer risk."
For more information on the signs of skin cancer and how to reduce your personal risk of UV exposure, visit: http://www.bccancer.bc.ca/prevent/sun-safety/reduce-your-risk.