The Way We Live: Sunbathing is twice as dangerous as we thought

Sunbathing may cause more than twice as many life-threatening cancers as previously suspected, scientists disclosed yesterday. Our propensity to toast ourselves on the beach could be linked with the 40 per cent rise in the blood cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, as well as the increase in skin cancer. Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor, reports.

At the present rate of increase, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is set to become the third or fourth most common cancer by 2010. An atlas displaying the geographical distribution of leukaemias and other blood cancers, published yesterday, shows that cases have risen 40 per cent in the last decade.

The cause of the rise has baffled scientists but it has paralleled the increase in melanoma. There are 4,000 new cases of melanoma a year and 5,000 new cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Both diseases are commoner in the sunnier counties of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset than in the north. The same pattern is seen in Europe, America and Australia.

Increasing affluence and the trend to take holidays in the sun are believed to be behind the rise in both cancers. The effects of global warming and thinning of the ozone layer are expected to increase the incidence of cancers caused by sunlight by10 per cent over the next 50 years.

Professor Ray Cartwright, director of the Leukaemia Research Fund centre for clinical epidemiology at Leeds University, said: "Increasing exposure to sunlight is my favourite hypothesis for the rise in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. People who get skin cancer also get more lymphomas. Farmers who are out in the sun more get more of both diseases. Darker skinned people are protected against them."

"We know from work on sunbeds that exposure to them takes away some of the immune properties of the white blood cells. It is still a hypothesis but if it is true it means there are simple public health measures we can take, such as telling people to cover up in the sun."

Professor Cartwright said other explanations were increasing pollution from cars, which would be much harder to control, and changing use of antibiotics over the past 50 years which may have affected people's immunity and changed the nature of the infections to which they are exposed.

The first sign of lymphoma, which is a cancer of the lymph glands, is a lump in the neck, armpit or groin. At a later stage the cancer affects the liver, spleen and bone marrow and ultimately causes bone marrow failure when it ceases to produce new blood cells. Treatment is by radiotherapy and chemotherapy and 70 per cent of patients survive five years.

The atlas and handbook giving guidance on the investigation of leukaemia "clusters", published by the Leukaemia Research Fund, provide the most comprehensive picture of all that is known about one of the most feared cancers. It focuses on two areas, the North and the South-west, and is based on 27,000 cases of the diseases from 1984-93.

Leukaemia is perceived to be a disease of childhood because one type, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, peaks in the under-20s and there are fears that it may be linked with exposure to radiation from nuclear power stations or overhead electricity cables. In fact, there is little evidence of either link and leukaemia affects ten times more adults than children.

Dr David Grant, scientific director of the fund, said the failure to pinpoint the causes of leukaemia was "one of the most distressing unanswered questions" for patients and their families which the atlas would help tackle. The answer was likely to be a combination of genetic, environmental, lifestyle and occupational factors. "The pattern of the diseases over the country, the differences between the sexes - blood cancers are more common in men, especially after age 50 - and between age groups, could provide clues to their causes," he said.

In some blood cancers, such as Hodgkin's disease, there was likely to be an infectious cause.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms