The influence of climate change on skin cancer incidence - A review of the evidence

Int J Womens Dermatol. 2020 Jul 17;7(1):17-27. doi: 10.1016/j.ijwd.2020.07.003. eCollection 2021 Jan.


Background: Climate change is broadly affecting human health, with grave concern that continued warming of the earth's atmosphere will result is serious harm. Since the mid-20th century, skin cancer incidence rates have risen at an alarming rate worldwide.

Objective: This review examines the relationship between climate change and cutaneous carcinogenesis.

Methods: A literature review used the National Institutes of Health databases (PubMed and Medline), the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results and International Agency for Research on Cancer registries, and published reports by federal and international agencies and consortia, including the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Climate and Clean Air Coalition, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, United Nations Environment Programme, World Health Organization, and World Meteorological Organization.

Results: Skin cancer risk is determined by multiple factors, with exposure to ultraviolet radiation being the most important. Strong circumstantial evidence supports the hypothesis that factors related to climate change, including stratospheric ozone depletion, global warming, and ambient air pollution, have likely contributed to the increasing incidence of cutaneous malignancy globally and will continue to impose a negative on influence skin cancer incidence for many decades to come.

Conclusion: Because much of the data are based on animal studies and computer simulations, establishing a direct and definitive link remains challenging. More epidemiologic studies are needed to prove causality in skin cancer, but the evidence for overall harm to human health as a direct result of climate change is clear. Global action to mitigate these negative impacts to humans and the environment is imperative.

Keywords: Air pollution; Climate change; Global warming; Melanoma; Nonmelanoma skin cancer; Skin cancer.

Publication types

  • Review