1999 Volume 9 Issue 6sup Pages 7-13
Skin cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in humans. Solar keratoses are related benign tumours that are at least ten times commoner than skin cancers and photoageing of the skin is still more common. Descriptive studies show that incidence rates of the main types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma are maximal in populations in which ambient sun exposure is high and skin (epidermal) transmission of solar radiation is high, suggesting strong associations with sun exposure. Analytic epidemiological studies confirm that exposure to the UV component of sunlight is the major environmental determinant of skin cancers and associated skin conditions and evidence of a causal association between cumulative sun exposure and SCC, solar keratoses and photodamage is relatively straightforward. Results for BCC and melanoma are complicated by several factors including the existence of subgroups of these diseases which do not appear to be caused by sun exposure yet have been included in most aetiological studies to date. Complementary to epidemiological data is the molecular evidence of ultraviolet (UV) mechanisms of carcinogenesis such as UV-specific mutations in the DNA of tumour suppressor genes in skin tumours. With increased UV irradiation resulting from thinning of the ozone layer, skin cancer incidence rates have been predicted to increase in the future unless, as is hoped, human behaviour to reduce sun exposure can offset these predicted rises. J Epidemiol, 1999 ; 9 : S7-S13.